Dieting practices, weight perceptions, and body composition: a comparison of normal weight, overweight, and obese college females

Nutr J. 2006 Mar 31;5:11. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-5-11.


Background: Of concern to health educators is the suggestion that college females practice diet and health behaviors that contradict the 2005 dietary guidelines for Americans. In this regard, there remain gaps in the research related to dieting among college females. Namely, do normal weight individuals diet differently from those who are overweight or obese, and are there dieting practices used by females that can be adapted to promote a healthy body weight? Since it is well recognized that females diet, this study seeks to determine the dieting practices used among normal, overweight, and obese college females (do they diet differently) and identify dieting practices that could be pursued to help these females more appropriately achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Methods: A total of 185 female college students aged 18 to 24 years participated in this study. Height, weight, waist and hip circumferences, and skinfold thickness were measured to assess body composition. Surveys included a dieting practices questionnaire and a 30-day physical activity recall. Participants were classified according to body mass index (BMI) as normal weight (n = 113), overweight (n = 35), or obese (n = 21). Data were analyzed using JMP IN(R) software. Descriptive statistics included means, standard deviations, and frequency. Subsequent data analysis involved Pearson X2 and one-way analysis of variance with comparison for all pairs that were significantly different using Tukey-Kramer honestly significant difference test.

Results: Outcomes of this study indicate the majority of participants (83%) used dieting for weight loss and believed they would be 2% to 6% greater than current weight if they did not diet; normal weight, overweight, and obese groups perceived attractive weight to be 94%, 85%, and 74%, respectively, of current weight; 80% of participants reported using physical activity to control weight, although only 19% exercised at a level that would promote weight loss; only two of 15 dieting behaviors assessed differed in terms of prevalence of use among groups, which were consciously eating less than you want (44% normal weight, 57% overweight, 81% obese) and using artificial sweeteners (31% normal weight and overweight, 5% obese); and the most prevalent explicit maladaptive weight loss behavior was smoking cigarettes (used by 9% of participants) and most unhealthy was skipping breakfast (32%).

Conclusion: Collectively, results indicate female college students, regardless of weight status, would benefit from open discussions with health educators regarding healthy and effective dieting practices to achieve/maintain a healthy body weight. The results are subject to replication among high school, middle-aged, and older females.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight*
  • Diet Records
  • Diet*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Obesity*
  • Perception*
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • Smoking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Waist-Hip Ratio
  • Weight Loss