British Journal of Clinical Psychology

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Volume 31 Issue 1 (February 1992), Pages 1-127

Eating in the adult world: The rise of dieting in childhood and adolescence (pages 95-106)

Dieting is a common practice among adolescent girls. Recent research suggests that adolescent dieting may not be benign and that it is becoming more frequent in younger age groups. The present study investigated dieting motivation and the underlying attitudes to body weight and shape in two age groups. Eighty‐four nine‐year‐old and 86 14‐year‐old girls from the same school completed assessments of dietary restraint, body esteem, body satisfaction and body figure preferences. The girls' body weight and height were also measured. The distribution of restraint scores revealed individuals from both age groups in every category of dieting motivation. Subjects in the upper and lower quartiles of the restraint distribution were identified and compared on the other measures. The highly restrained girls expressed low body esteem and discontent with their body build, weight and certain regions of their bodies. Furthermore, their ‘ideal’ body shape was significantly slimmer than their perceived current body shape, and slimmer even than that of the non‐dieters. This pattern held for both the nine‐ and 14‐year‐olds, of whom half of each age group were of average or below average weight index for their age. The appearance of these dispositions and behaviours by the age of nine, or possibly earlier, may result in a marked increase in future clinical eating problems and disorders.

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