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Teens’ Unhealthy Eating Behaviors Continue into Adulthood

Teen Unhealthy Eating Behaviors Continue into AdulthoodTeens who engage in unhealthy and excessive weight control behaviors — such as binge eating — continue doing so into young adulthood and beyond, according to a study conducted by University of Minnesota researchers.

“The findings from the current study argue for early and ongoing efforts aimed at the prevention, early identification, and treatment of disordered eating behaviors in young people,” commented lead investigator Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.

Researchers examined the records for 1,030 young men and 1,257 young women using data from Project EAT-III (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults), a 10-year longitudinal study developed to examine eating, activity, and weight-related factors among young people. Subjects were largely between 13 and 16 years old at the beginning of the study, and 23 to 26 years old when it ended.

Participants answered questions about dieting, extreme weight control methods such as fasting, using food replacements and skipping meals, and out-of-control binge eating. Data concerning socioeconomic, gender, age, and race/ethnicity factors was also included.

Approximately half of the females reported dieting in the past year compared to about one-fourth of the males. The occurrence of dieting stayed fairly consistent from adolescence through young adulthood for females in both age groups. Among males, the prevalence of dieting remained constant over time in the younger age group, but increased in the older group as they aged from middle adolescence to middle young adulthood.

In the younger females, unhealthy weight control behaviors remained constant from early adolescence to early young adulthood.

Among older females, these behaviors decreased significantly from middle adolescence to middle young adulthood, but still remained very high (60.7 percent compared to 54.4 percent).

Approximately one-third of males reported unhealthy weight control behaviors, which stayed fairly constant over the study period in both age groups.

For extreme behaviors, there was a significant increase from adolescence to young adulthood in females for both age groups and for the older male group. Among females, the use of extreme weight control behaviors increased from 8.4 to 20.4 percent between early adolescence and early young adulthood and from 12.6 to 20.6 percent between middle adolescence and middle young adulthood.

For the older males, extreme weight control behaviors increased from 2.1 percent in middle adolescence to 7.3 percent in middle young adulthood.

The results reveal that these potentially harmful eating control behaviors are not just a phase that adolescents experience, but instead may indicate that early dieting and disordered eating behaviors may set the stage for continued use of these methods in later life.

“Within clinical practices, dietitians and other health care providers should be asking about the use of these behaviors prior to adolescence, throughout adolescence, and into young adulthood,” noted the researchers.

“Given the growing concern about obesity, it is important to let young people know that dieting and disordered eating behaviors can be counterproductive to weight management. Young people concerned about their weight should be provided with support for healthful eating and physical activity behaviors that can be implemented on a long-term basis, and should be steered away from the use of unhealthy weight control practices.”

The study is published in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Source: University of Minnesota

Teens’ Unhealthy Eating Behaviors Continue into Adulthood

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Teens’ Unhealthy Eating Behaviors Continue into Adulthood. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 26 Jun 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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