Objective: To assess the relationships of concern with weight and shape, frequency of dieting, body mass index (weight/height2), and energy intake among 431 preadolescent and adolescent girls from a working-class New England suburb.
Method: A cross-sectional study design used self-report measures of concern with weight, frequency of dieting, and average dietary intake.
Results: Approximately 30% of the girls in each age stratum were above the national age-standardized 85th percentile for body mass index (BMI). Body mass index was positively associated with concern about weight and shape (r = 0.46, p = 0.0001) and frequency of dieting (r = 0.49, p = 0.0001). Extreme concern with weight and shape was most common among the obese preadolescent and adolescent girls; however, dissatisfaction was also present among the underweight females. Fifty percent of the girls who were below the national age-standardized 15th percentile for BMI reported their ideal weight is less than their current weight, implying that among young women thinness is not adequate protection against dissatisfaction with weight and shape. Frequency of dieting was positively associated with concern about weight and shape (r = 0.53, p = 0.001) but not physical activity (r = -0.04, p = 0.36). Overall, we did not find strong evidence that dieters were eating less than their nondieting peers. Only among high school students was there a significant negative association between frequency of dieting and energy intake (r = -0.20, p = 0.01), suggesting that "dieting" may have a different meaning to preadolescents and adults.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that self-reported frequent dieting in preadolescent and young adolescent girls is more indicative of extreme concern with weight than of decreased energy intake. Furthermore, extreme concern with weight and shape is most common among the obese preadolescent and adolescent girls.