Weight Management Efforts, But Not Weight Perceptions, Are Associated with Dietary Quality among Youth and Young Adults in Canada

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2021 May;121(5):942-951. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2020.10.011. Epub 2020 Nov 26.


Background: Efforts to lose, gain, or maintain weight are prevalent among youth and young adults, but little is known about the relationship between weight management efforts and dietary quality. Attempts to manage weight are typically driven by weight perceptions, which may also uniquely affect overall diet.

Objective: The objective was to explore sex-stratified associations between weight management efforts and perceptions with dietary quality among youth and young adults.

Design: Cross-sectional online survey data were drawn from Wave 1 (2016) of the Canada Food Study.

Participants/setting: Youth and young adults (n = 3,000), aged 16 to 30 years, were recruited from community settings in five Canadian cities and completed the online survey. The analytic sample consisted of 2,040 participants.

Main outcome measures: The Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015) was used to characterize dietary quality among participants who completed a 24-hour recall. Respondents reported their weight change efforts over the past year and their weight perception.

Statistical analyses performed: Sex-stratified multiple linear regression analyses were conducted to investigate relationships between each of weight management efforts and perceptions, separately, and dietary quality, controlling for known covariates.

Results: The HEI-2015 mean score was 52 of 100 possible points. Nearly one quarter of male and female respondents reported not trying to do anything about their weight, whereas 16% reported trying to maintain, 28% and 5% trying to gain, and 33% and 55% trying to lose weight, respectively. Most respondents (63% of males and 66% of females) perceived their weight as just about right. Among males, trying to gain or maintain weight were each significantly associated with higher HEI-2015 mean scores compared with not trying to manage weight (P < .01 and <.001, respectively), whereas this relationship existed only for weight maintenance among female respondents (P < .01). Weight perceptions and HEI-2015 mean scores were not significantly related.

Conclusions: Efforts to manage weight, which are commonplace among youth and young adults, are associated with dietary quality. Future behavioral research may provide insights into strategies used by youth to manage weight, guiding interventions that recognize links among weight-related behaviors, dietary quality, and other determinants of health.

Keywords: Healthy Eating Index-2015; dietary quality; weight management; weight perception; young adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet Surveys
  • Diet, Healthy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors*
  • Weight Perception*
  • Young Adult