Peers at the heart of teen weight concerns

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According to findings recently published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, peer group identification among teenagers greatly determines how a girl perceives the need to control her figure. According to the study, authored by Dr. Eleanor Mackey of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C., and colleague Dr. Annette La Greca of the University of Miami, peer groups are an avenue through which teenage girls perceive what others feel is normal body weight. The authors of the study surveyed 236 girls between the ages of 13 and 18; the survey measured one’s own concern about body weight, which peer group one identifies with, and perceptions of peer’s weight concerns. Girls who did not identify with any group were most likely to be incorporating slimming strategies. Non-conformists, who the study labeled as “Alternatives,” were also likely to be concerned about their weight and to be incorporating strategies for weight loss. Least concerned about weight were girls that identified themselves as being athletic, or “Jocks.”

Understanding avenues through which teenagers conceptualize what a normal body image is could help to create intervention and prevention strategies and programs in schools as well as primary care settings. The following is an excerpt of an article from Medical New Today that reviews the study:

Dangerous weight control practices such as excessive dieting and bulimic tendencies often begin in adolescence and can have serious long-term health implications. Although it is clear that peers can have a major effect on adolescent girls’ weight control strategies, exactly how peers exert their influence is to date not well understood. The researchers aimed to clarify how identifying with a particular peer group influences whether or not girls worry about their weight and how they decide to control it.

The authors tested 236 girls aged between 13 to 18 years old, who completed surveys looking at which peer groups they most identified with, their own concerns about body weight, their perception of their peers’ weight concerns and their own weight control behaviors. The researchers found that there is a complex relationship between peer group affiliation and girls’ weight control behavior. In particular, which group girls identified with was often related to how they controlled their weight.

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