Among teens in one Los Angeles public school, 60% reported dieting at some point in their lives, primarily before the age of 14, and many said they skipped meals or vomited to control their weight.
In fact, 15 percent of these weight-conscious teens said they went on a diet before they turned 11 years old, according to a team of California and Texas researchers.
They studied dieting behaviors among 146 tenth graders who attended an urban, multiethnic high school in the Los Angeles area. About a third were male, and most were 14 or 15 years old.
About 27% of the study group had a body mass index (BMI) - a measure of weight in relation to height - greater than 25, which is classified as overweight.
Almost three-quarters of males in this at-risk BMI group said they had dieted, in comparison to about one quarter of females. Among females, dieting was most commonly reported among those in the normal-weight range.
Many of the teens that reported ever dieting said their strategy included limiting the portion size of their food, counting the number of calories in the food they consumed or counting grams of fat. In fact, nearly 65% of the dieters, males in particular, said they tried to eat low-fat foods.
Many students also reported skipping meals as a weight control technique, although research has shown this strategy to be ineffective, the authors note. Twenty percent of males and 18% of females also said they had vomited after a meal at least once and up to 13% said they had used an over-the-counter (OTC) diet aid.
The researchers cite the negative health effects of over-the-counter supplements like ephedra, which is also known as Ma huang. They write that "high school students should be educated not only on the risk of dieting but also on the specific risks associated with various dieting behaviors and OTC diet aids." Ephedra has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Further, in light of the dieters' young ages, nutrition education regarding healthy eating and lifestyle habits, including safe vs. unsafe dieting practices, should begin by the seventh grade.
In light of the findings, experts advise parents to not only get rid of the soda pop, potato chips, corn chips and other high-fat snack foods in the house, but also to sit down and talk with kids about all the empty calories that are in those foods.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.