Girls who start dieting early in their lives are more likely to grow into women with disordered eating who abuse alcohol or become overweight or obese, according to the preliminary research of a study presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.
While the research is preliminary, it found a definite link between dieting age and later struggles.
The research team surveyed more than 2,100 college-age women in 1982, 1992, 2002 and 2012 about habits relating to health and diet, such as if they diet, at what age they started dieting and what method (low-calorie, low-fat, low-carbohydrate) in which they dieted.
Follow-up questioning occurred every 10 years with those surveyed in 1982, 1992 and 2002. Research concluded that the younger a girl started dieting, the more likely it was that she would struggle with disordered eating, alcohol consumption and obesity. For example, a girl who starts dieting at age 11 is much more likely to struggle as an adult than her friend who starts dieting at age 13 or 14.
The research also showed that while the average age of first dieting rose from about 14 to 15, some of the most alarming respondents started dieting as early as ages 3 and 5. That’s correct — girls who are too young to attend kindergarten are restricting themselves from certain foods.
However, the research also showed that other factors such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder may also play into the results, especially with those women who struggle with eating disorders.
Pamela Keel, co-author of the study and a Florida State University psychologist, said that the link between early dieting and adult health problems has to do with rewards. Food deprivation earlier in life may influence brain development and therefore increasing sensitivity to rewards, making it more likely to overindulge as adults.
Data also released last month by the Keep It Real campaign states that 80% of 10-year-olds admit to having dieted, and 53% of 13-year-olds are unhappy with how their bodies look. That’s a lot of young girls thinking nasty thoughts about their own bodies. The Keep It Real campaign, which works to promote body-positive messages, released the shocking statistics to show how hard it will have to fight to improve body image among young people and the ugly things these children think about themselves.