A Message Overlooked May Leave Students Underweight: Obesity Education and Disordered Eating
As a result of growing rates of childhood obesity and increased public attention to this problem, schools are implementing programs aimed at decreasing childhood and adolescent obesity. However, the messages of obesity prevention programs may conflict with messages that are effective at preventing eating disorders. This paper explores the potential ramifications of school-based education about weight on dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors. Analyses using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicate that there are associations between learning about weight in middle or high school and weight-loss behavior years later among adolescent girls. Contrary to predictions, learning about the dangers of being overweight, which was hypothesized to increase preoccupation with weight and disordered eating behaviors, is correlated with reduced likelihood of problematic dieting and eating-disorder diagnosis. Learning about the dangers of being underweight, thought to be more sensitive education, does not appear to protect individuals from dangerous dieting patterns and has a marginally significant association with an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with an eating disorder. On the other hand, this educational approach is also associated with an increased probability that girls will exercise to lose weight and exhibit higher self-esteem. Findings from this report are used to inform discussion of the design and implementation of appropriate weight-related education programs.
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