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Original Article
September 1998

Problem Dieting Behaviors Among Young Adolescents

Author Affiliations

From the Sections of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Brenner Children's Hospital of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152(9):884-888. doi:

Objective  To examine dieting, eating and exercise behaviors, use of diet pills, and vomiting or use of laxatives to lose weight among younger adolescents.

Design  Analysis of data from a modified version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered to middle school students in North Carolina in 1995.

Setting  Fifty-three randomly selected middle schools in North Carolina.

Subjects  Two thousand three hundred thirty-one students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

Interventions  None.

Main Outcome Measures  Responses to questions regarding weight control practices, including vomiting or laxative use, dieting, exercise, or diet pill use.

Results  Of the students surveyed, 110 (9.7%) of the girls and 46 (4.0%) of the boys reported vomiting or using laxatives to lose weight. Among the girls, vomiting or laxative use was associated with feeling overweight, other weight loss practices, older age, being a poor student, smoking, eating more salads or vegetables, and eating more candy or other sweets (P≤.01). A logistic regression model consisting of diet pill use, dieting to lose weight, lower academic achievement, and currently trying to lose weight correctly classified 92% of female students who had or had not vomited or used laxatives. Among boys, vomiting or laxative use was associated with feeling overweight, other weight loss practices, minority racial status, smoking, frequency of eating hamburgers or other high-fat meats, and frequency of eating french fries or potato chips (P≤.01). A model consisting of diet pill use, minority race, dieting to lose weight, smoking, feeling overweight, and number of servings of hamburgers, hot dogs, or barbecue correctly classified 97% of the boys who had or had not vomited or used laxatives.

Conclusion  Younger adolescents trying to lose weight engage in a variety of problem dieting and weight loss behaviors that can compromise health and may be associated with eating disorders.