A recent study says "yes"; frequent reading of magazine articles about dieting/weight loss strongly predicts unhealthy weight-control behaviors in adolescent girls but not in boys, five years later.


Researchers at the University of Minnesota analyzed data from Project Eat (Eating Among Teens), a five-year study of eating, physical activity, weight and related variables in 2516 middle and high school students. Study participants completed surveys and had their height and weight measured in 1999 and again in 2004.


Study findings included:


For female adolescents:


·         Frequency of healthy, unhealthy and extreme weight-control behaviors increased with increasing magazine reading.

·         The odds of engaging in unhealthy weight-control behaviors (like fasting and skipping meals) were twice as high for the most frequent readers compared with those who did not read magazine articles about dieting and weight loss.

·         The odds of using extreme weight-control behaviors (like vomiting or using laxatives) were three times higher in the highest-frequency readers compared with those who did not read such magazines.


For male adolescents:


·         There were no significant associations with frequency of reading and weight-control behaviors.


Researchers concluded that these findings, in conjunction with findings from previous studies, suggest a need for interventions aimed at reducing exposure to, and the importance placed on, media messages regarding dieting and weight loss.


What can you do? You might consider not buying magazines with unhealthy weight loss messages and having them around for your daughters to see and read. Or, use the magazines as an opportunity to discuss what is unhealthy about the articles and photos they contain.


Visit the Cooper Institute home page at www.cooperinstitute.org for more information.


¹ van den Berg, P., Neumark-Sztainer, D.N., et al. (2007). Is dieting advice from magazines helpful or harmful? Five year associations with weight-control behaviors and psychological outcomes in adolescents. Pediatrics, 119(1), e30-e37. 


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