Teens Are Affected by Friends’ Disordered Eating

One answer may be interventions
targeting friendship groups.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2010 Volume 21, Number 6
©2010 Gürze Books

Disordered eating behaviors are common among teens, and cross-sectional research has shown that their friends may have a strong influence upon these phenomena. This is particularly marked among teenage girls. A longitudinal study that followed 2,516 adolescents from 1998 to 1999, with a follow-up five years later, investigated their friends’ involvement in dieting and their own experience of chronic dieting, unhealthy weight control, and binge eating.

As Maria E. Eisenberg, ScD, MPH, and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, RD, from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, reported in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health (Volume 47, pp. 67-73), one-third of the participants in the study reported that their friends were “not at all” involved in dieting at baseline and 8.8% others reported their friends were “very involved” in dieting. Five years later, friends’ dieting at baseline was positively associated with chronic dieting, unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors, and binge eating among females, and with extreme weight control behavior among males.

Drs. Eisenberg and Neumark-Sztainer suggest that interventions targeting friendship groups rather than focusing only on individuals may be an important strategy for preventing disordered eating. They also suggest that clinicians consider asking teens about their friends’ eating and dieting practices.

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