Objectives: To examine gender differences in weight control behaviors; their duration and the consistency of their use over a 3-year period; and variations of these behaviors by body mass index (BMI).
Research methods and procedures: The study population included 714 women and 229 men participating in a community-based weight gain prevention program who completed surveys about their weight control behaviors annually for 3 years. General dieting behaviors (e.g., current, regular, and past dieting), dietary restraint (using Restrained Eating subscale of the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire), and specific weight control practices (e.g., increasing exercise, skipping meals, and taking laxatives) were assessed.
Results: Women were more likely than men to report weight control behaviors, with particularly strong associations found between gender and "history of dieting" (odds ratio = 8.1) and "participation in an organized weight loss program" (odds ratio = 11.7). Among both genders, exercise was the most frequently reported specific weight loss practice (66% of women and 53% of men), followed by decreasing fat intake (62% of women and 48% of men). The use of at least one unhealthy weight control behavior over the past year was reported by 22% of the women and 17% of the men. Gender differences were not found for duration of use of most of the specific weight control practices over the past year, or for consistency of general dieting behaviors and dietary restraint over time. Although both gender and BMI were strongly associated with dieting behaviors, interactions between gender and BMI on prevalence rates of dieting were not significant.
Discussion: Although weight control behaviors were more prevalent among women than men, in general, large gender differences were not found in the types of behaviors used and the duration and consistency of their use. The high percentages of adults using healthy methods of weight control was encouraging. However, there is still cause for concern, in that unhealthy weight control practices were also reported by a significant percentage of the population.