Unhealthy weight-control practices can persist and intensify in adulthood

November 28, 2018, University of Minnesota
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

As many as one-third of adolescents and two-thirds of adults engage in dieting. Unhealthy forms of weight control such as purging, fasting and dieting are linked to problems later in life including eating disorders, depression and substance abuse.

A new study involving researchers and data from the University of Minnesota recently examined the prevalence of weight behaviors across life stages and found that they often begin in adolescence and can persist—or even intensify—in adulthood.

The study, which was co-authored by School of Public Health Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., and led by Assistant Professor Ann Haynos, Ph.D., of the Psychiatry Department in the Medical School, was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Haynos and Neumark-Sztainer examined survey answers from 1,455 and women who were asked about their dieting practices. The adults were selected from the School of Public Health's long-running Project EAT, a multi-decade study tracking the health and well-being of thousands of participants beginning in adolescence.

The study found:

  • The rates of dieting increase over time for both men and women.
  • From young adulthood (age 25) into adulthood (age 31), rates of high-frequency dieting—five or more times a year—and extreme forms of weight control, such as purging and using diet pills, increased for men.
  • For both genders, dieting and unhealthy weight control patterns initiated prior to were more likely to persist than cease in adulthood.
  • Approximately 20 percent of people reported initiating dieting in adulthood.
  • Approximately 20 percent of women reported stopping unhealthy weight-control behaviors in adulthood.

"Our findings show that the use of unhealthy weight control behaviors is not limited to the period of adolescence, but these behaviors continue to have a high prevalence 15 years later," said Neumark-Sztainer.

"A lot of interventions and programs are geared toward younger people, so there's likely an unmet need for interventions aimed at stopping problematic weight control in adults," said Haynos.

Haynos is continuing her research and conducting a study to isolate and understand the for adults that can lead to unhealthy control practices. The data will be used to design interventions for those at highest risk for negative outcomes from the behaviors.

Explore further: Nearly all adolescents have eating, activity or weight-related issues

More information: Ann F. Haynos et al. Patterns of weight control behavior persisting beyond young adulthood: Results from a 15-year longitudinal study, International Journal of Eating Disorders (2018). DOI: 10.1002/eat.22963

Related Stories

Nearly all adolescents have eating, activity or weight-related issues

June 22, 2018
A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that nearly all young people have struggles with eating, activity and weight as they move from adolescence to adulthood.

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 ...

Weight-based teasing has long-term impact

May 4, 2017
A new study from researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut and the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota shows that weight-based teasing in adolescence predicts ...

Binging, purging and fasting more common in overweight, obese young adults

June 12, 2018
Young adults who are overweight or obese are twice as likely as their leaner peers to binge and purge, use laxatives or diuretics, or force themselves to vomit as a means of controlling their weight, according to a new study ...

Yoga linked to improved body satisfaction

November 16, 2018
Body dissatisfaction is highly prevalent among young adults and often leads to severe adverse health consequences, including disordered eating, weight gain over time and poor psychological health. To help address the problem, ...

Secular and longitudinal trends in dieting strategies in young adult women from 1982 to 2012

July 30, 2014
Research to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behaviors, finds that the younger a woman ...

Recommended for you

Self-perception and reality seem to line-up when it comes to judging our own personality

December 14, 2018
When it comes to self-assessment, new U of T research suggests that maybe we do have a pretty good handle on our own personalities after all.

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

New genetic clues to early-onset form of dementia

December 13, 2018
Unlike the more common Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia tends to afflict young people. It accounts for an estimated 20 percent of all cases of early-onset dementia. Patients with the illness typically begin to ...

How teens deal with stress may affect their blood pressure, immune system

December 13, 2018
Most teens get stressed out by their families from time to time, but whether they bottle those emotions up or put a positive spin on things may affect certain processes in the body, including blood pressure and how immune ...


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.