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Extreme Dieting Often Lasts From Early Teens to Adulthood

FRIDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Dieting and disordered eating that begin in adolescence often continue into young adulthood, a new study finds.

Disordered eating includes unhealthy and extreme weight-control behaviors, such as fasting or skipping meals and binge eating.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,030 males and 1,257 females who were followed for 10 years beginning in either early adolescence (about 13 years old) or middle adolescence (about 16 years old).

About half of the teen girls and about one-quarter of the teen boys reported dieting during the previous year. Among females in both age groups, the prevalence of dieting remained constant from adolescence through young adulthood. For males, dieting remained constant in the younger age group, but increased among the older age group as they progressed to their mid 20s (rising from 22 percent to 28 percent).

The prevalence of unhealthy weight-control behaviors remained constant among the younger girls during the study period. It decreased as the girls aged, but remained very high (61 percent to 54 percent).

For males in both age groups, the prevalence of unhealthy weight-control behaviors remained constant, the study authors noted.

Extreme weight-control behaviors increased significantly in both female age groups, from 8 percent to 20 percent in the younger group of girls and from 13 percent to 21 percent in the older group.

Among the older males, extreme weight-control behaviors increased from 2 percent to 7 percent, the investigators found.

The study is published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"The findings from the current study argue for early and ongoing efforts aimed at the prevention, early identification and treatment of disordered eating behaviors in young people," lead investigator Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a professor in the division of epidemiology & community health at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, said in a journal news release.

Dietitians and other health care providers should ask patients about their dieting behavior in childhood and through young adulthood, she added.

"Given the growing concern about obesity, it is important to let young people know that dieting and disordered eating behaviors can be counterproductive to weight management," she said. "Young people concerned about their weight should be provided with support for healthful eating and physical activity behaviors that can be implemented on a long-term basis, and should be steered away from the use of unhealthy weight-control practices."

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines how teens can reach and maintain a healthy weight.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, news release, June 24, 2011

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