Background: Weight-related problems, including obesity, eating disorders, and disordered eating, are major public health problems in adolescents. The identification of shared risk and protective factors for these problems can guide the development of relevant interventions to a broad spectrum of weight-related problems. This paper examines the prevalence and co-occurrence of overweight, binge eating, and extreme weight-control behaviors (vomiting, diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics) in adolescents and identifies shared risk and protective factors from within the socioenvironmental, personal, and behavioral domains for these three adverse weight-related outcomes.
Methods: Data were collected at Time 1 (1998-1999) and Time 2 (2003-2004) on 2516 adolescents participating in Project EAT (Eating Among Teens). Data were analyzed in 2006-2007.
Results: Weight-related problems were identified in 44% of the female subjects and 29% of the male subjects. About 40% of overweight girls and 20% of overweight boys engaged in at least one of the disordered eating behaviors (binge eating and/or extreme weight control). Weight-teasing by family, personal weight concerns, and dieting/unhealthy weight-control behaviors strongly and consistently predicted overweight status, binge eating, and extreme weight-control behaviors after 5 years. Family meals, regular meal patterns, and media exposure to messages about weight loss were also associated with weight-related outcomes, although the strength and consistency of associations differed across outcomes and gender.
Conclusions: Weight-specific socioenvironmental, personal, and behavioral variables are strong and consistent predictors of overweight status, binge eating, and extreme weight-control behaviors later in adolescence. These findings support the need for research to determine if decreasing weight-related social pressures, personal weight concerns, and unhealthy weight-control behaviors can contribute to reductions in obesity in children and adolescents.