Date Published: 21 July 2005

Recent Research at the University of Ulster: Teenage Female Dieting

Recent research conducted by by Elaine Mooney (Home Economics lecturer at St Angela's College in Sligo and a doctoral student at the University of Ulster) indicates that many teenage girls in Northern Ireland are dieting to achieve popularized body shapes depicted in the media.

About 400 14-16 year-olds took part in the survey of their eating and dieting habits, of whom:

  • Approx. 80% of the girls said it was important to be slim to attract boys' attention and achieve self-confidence;
  • Approx. 70% of the teenagers questioned said they were not satisfied with their current body shape or weight and wanted to be slimmer.;
  • Approx. 45% thought themselves overweight (even though visual observation indicated they were not);
  • Approx 50% reported they had dieted to lose weight; and
  • Approx 40% were currently "on a diet".

One teenage participant stated that:

" Lads will always go for the skinny looking blonde first."

These young people receive much of their information (including the details of celebrity diets and lifestyles) from magazines, where they also read about the latest diets.

One young girl said that:

On Atkins you get really bad breath. I would sooner have cancer”.

The GI diet is now the most popular slimming plan.

Results from this study suggest that many of the teenagers involved in this project believe that "crash diets" (i.e. sudden dramatic reduction in calorific intake) will help them find love and happiness. Although a desire to be slim, attractive, and popular with the opposite sex is not new, statistics reported by this study and the underlying views and values that they reflect have raised some concerns.

Dr Chris Strugnell (University of Ulster), observed that

"This is an important time in the life of adolescent girls and they are not only indulging in poor food choices and practices but, more worryingly, are missing important and essential nutrients ".

Other health concerns about the lifestyle choices indicated by these responses include the teenagers' emphasis on diet as opposed to (or in conjunction with) exercise, and the possible psychological effects of such dissatisfaction with oneself.

Source: Ulster University, http://www.ulst.ac.uk.

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