U of M study shows promoting self-weighing in teens is not helpful to weight management

Frequent weighing predicted higher risk of unhealthy weight control behaviors

Teenage girls who weigh themselves frequently are more likely to binge eat and participate in unhealthy weight control behaviors in the future, according to new research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

A study published in the December 2006 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health found frequent self-weighing in teenage females did not help with better weight management and predicted increased rates of binge eating and other unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as skipping meals, smoking, taking diet pills, using laxatives, and vomiting.

“As a society, so much attention is given to weight and staying within a specific number range to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., lead author and professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “This study shows that encouraging teens to focus on weight as a number is not helpful, and in fact, could be harmful.”

Researchers conducted a longitudinal study of more than 2,000 adolescents to examine changes in eating patterns and weight status over five years. Subjects completed two Project EAT: Eating Among Teens surveys - one in 1999 and one in 2004 - to determine if those who reported frequent self-weighing were at an increased risk for obesity and eating disorders.

The study found the average weight gain during a five-year period was nearly twice as high among teenage girls who reported weighing themselves frequently. Self-weighing also predicted increased rates of binge eating, smoking, vomiting, and skipping meals. This led researchers to conclude that strategies which focus on behavioral change, rather than weight, may be more helpful for teens.

“We should tread cautiously before recommending that teens weigh themselves frequently when trying to manage weight,” said Neumark-Sztainer, who is also the author of the book, I’m, Like, So Fat!: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight Obsessed World. “Self-weighing may be helpful to adults, but in adolescents it may not be the best option,” she said.

Project EAT: Eating Among Teens was designed to investigate the factors influencing the eating habits of adolescents, to determine if youth are meeting national dietary recommendations, and to explore dieting and physical activity patterns among youth. The project strives to build a greater understanding of the socioeconomic, personal, and behavioral factors associated with diet and weight-related behavior during adolescence so more effective nutrition interventions can be developed.

This study was supported by the Maternal and Child Health Program, Health Resources and Services Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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