Teenage girls taking risks with their health

Teenage girls who diet to lose weight are more likely than others to make decisions that potentially compromise their health.

adolescents discussing their health needs in a group

This is according to a new study from the University of Waterloo, which has suggested that the instinct to diet may be driven by underlying impulses that are not necessarily healthy, and that young girls should think twice before making efforts to intentionally shed weight.

For this research, the behaviour of 3,300 high school girls in Ontario was assessed, revealing that teenagers who were actively dieting at the time of the study were more likely to engage in one or more other risky behaviours three years later.

Dieters were shown to be 1.6 times more likely to smoke and skip breakfast, for example, as well as being 1.5 times more likely to smoke and engage in binge drinking. This may be because dieting and other risky health behaviours may be linked to common mental factors, such as poor body image.

These findings are a potential cause for concern, given that 70 per cent of the girls involved in the study reported dieting at some point over the three-year period. This trend can be explained by the weight gain many girls experience during and after puberty, combined with pressure from social media and broader culture to maintain an idealised body.

This suggests that more needs to be done to educate young women on healthy living goals, according to the researchers.

Study leader Amanda Raffoul, a PhD candidate in public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo, said:

"Intentional weight loss is not something we should necessarily encourage, especially among this population, since it's possible that well-meaning initiatives that promote dieting may be doing more harm than good. Instead, we should focus on health broadly rather than weight as an indicator of health."ADNFCR-2094-ID-801846991-ADNFCR