Last week the news out of the University of Minnesota's Project Eat wasn't good. It showed a relatively high rate of adolescents and teens who had tried unhealthy dieting and weight-loss tactics. It also showed that these extreme dieters actually gained more weight on average once they reached their 20s compared to their peers.
But in the world of scientific research, the tone of the news can turn as quickly as the next publication. On Monday, the U of M highlighted a new study from Project Eat's principal investigator, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, showing a drop in unhealthy dieting behaviors when comparing teens from 1999 with those from 2010.
Among girls who were surveyed, the number who tried dieting declined 6.7 percent, the number who tried losing weight by skipping meals or using food substitutes dropped 8.2 percent, and the number who tried extreme measures such as self-induced vomiting dropped 4.5 percent.
Interestingly, the number of girls reporting that they were trying to lose weight remained roughly the same -- 43.4 percent in 1999 compared to 45 percent in 2010. But fewer girls were trying weight control behaviors deemed unhealthy (skipping meals, taking laxatives) in 2010 while more were using healthy options (exercise, fruit/vegetable consumption, etc.).
Sztainer said the findings from last week and this week are consistent. The prior study examined weight gain over time in adolescents and teens who are now in their 20s. And while today's teens are cutting down on unhealthy weight loss behaviors, they haven't gone away entirely. Roughly one in 10 girls in the 2010 survey said they participated in binge eating at least once in the prior year. One in five girls inaccurately perceived themselves as overweight.
"Still a big problem!" Neumark-Sztainer said.
A major concern when comparing teens from the two eras was a substantial increase in obesity levels among male minorities. Obesity prevalence increased among Hispanic boys, for example, from 19.7 percent to 33.6 percent, the study found.
“What our analysis finds is that obesity prevention messages may not be reaching these boys,” Neumark-Sztainer said. “The findings suggest a real need for improved public health outreach to those populations.”