Teens who check the scale frequently may have an unhealthy preoccupation with weight

April 18, 2012 By Laura Kennedy, Health Behavior News Service

Teens who weigh themselves several times per week may be at risk for unhealthy weight control practices and poor psychological well-being, according to a new study.

While earlier studies have shown that self-weighing can be an effective weight management tool for adults, the same may not hold true for younger people, says lead author Virginia Quick, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

“Adolescents and face a lot of pressure from society to fit the ideal body weight or shape,” she adds. “But the number on the scale is not the only measure of overall health.”

Adolescents who check the scale repeatedly are more likely to engage in extreme weight loss methods — like fasting, binge eating, or vomiting — than other young adults.

They may also try muscle-building products such as steroids, creatine, and hormone supplements. The study, which appears in Journal of Adolescent Health, is one of the first to question teens about these potentially dangerous substances.

Psychological issues related to frequent self-weighing include depression and low self-esteem for young women, and poor body satisfaction for young men.

The study also shows that frequent self-weighing is associated with healthy practices, such as dietary improvements and exercise. These findings may present a conundrum for many health care providers, who are intent on fighting obesity by urging everyone to step on the scale regularly.

“Before recommending self-weighing as a weight-monitoring tool, health care providers should ensure that young adults are not at risk for an unhealthy preoccupation with body weight or shape,” advise the study authors.

Clinicians and parents should encourage a broader view of good psychological and physical health by asking teens about their happiness, energy levels, and body image, Quick adds.

The new findings are based on a survey completed by nearly 2,300 young who first reported their weight control behaviors 10 years ago as public-school students in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  About 18 percent of young women and 12 percent of young men reported weighing themselves a few times per week or more.

“Self-monitoring of weight should not be a prescription for everyone without doing some screening first,” notes Michelle Dionne, Ph.D., who studies the psychology of eating at Ryerson University in Toronto. “There is a certain percentage of the population who will use that feedback and engage in unhealthy behaviors.”

Teens in particular are prone to risky behaviors in all areas of life, Dionne adds. She calls for further research into the psychological vulnerabilities — such as low self-esteem, anxiety, or neuroticism — of people who pursue weight loss goals at any cost.

“We have to do something about the obesity crisis, but if you don’t provide people with the tools, resources, and information they need to implement proper control then you’re just creating another mess,” she concludes.

Explore further: Adolescents' dieting and disordered eating behaviors continue into young adulthood

More information: Quick, V. et al. 2012. Self-WeighingBehaviors in Young Adults: Tipping the Scale Toward Unhealthy Eating Behaviors? Journal of Adolescent Health. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.02.008

Related Stories

Adolescents' dieting and disordered eating behaviors continue into young adulthood

June 24, 2011
Adolescents who diet and develop disordered eating behaviors (unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors and binge eating) carry these unhealthy practices into young adulthood and beyond, according to a study conducted ...

Excess weight in young adulthood predicts shorter lifespan

August 17, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Those 25-year-olds who are overweight now but think they will be fine as long as they lose weight eventually might need to reconsider. A study appearing online in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds ...

Teen weight began to rise in 1990s, new study finds

July 12, 2011
A new study that looks at weight change over decades finds that the obesity epidemic in teens and young adults has its roots in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when body weights began to rise. But not everyone was affected ...

Losing weight, keeping it off might require distinct skill sets

July 5, 2011
A new study indicates that the practices that help people to lose weight and the practices that help them keep it off do not overlap much.

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.