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Millions of Americans are overweight and getting heavier. But submerged in the U.S. obesity epidemic, researchers are finding that societal pressures to lose weight have led an unprecedented number of teenage girls to turn to extremely unhealthy weight control behaviors.
A study conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Project Eat followed 2,500 teenage girls over a five-year period. The study found that by the ages of 19 to 20, about 20 percent of young women are popping diet pills to keep weight off. Furthermore, in just the five years the study was ongoing, the researchers discovered that high school girls’ use of diet pills nearly doubled from 7.5 to 14.2 percent.
“These numbers are startling, and they tell us we need to do a better job of helping our daughters feel better about themselves and avoid unhealthy weight control behaviors,” researcher Dianne Neumark-Sztainer warns.
The research also demonstrates that 62.7 percent of teenage females use “unhealthy weight control behaviors” and 21.9 percent of teenage females indulge in “very unhealthy weight control behaviors.” Under the heading “very unhealthy” weight control behaviors, the researchers include the use of diet pills, laxatives, vomiting or skipping meals to take off pounds.
“We have found that teenage females who diet and use unhealthy weight control behaviors are at three times the risk of being overweight,” said Neumark-Sztainer. “Teens who feel good about their bodies eat better and have less risk of being overweight. Parents can play a key role in helping their children to build a positive body image and engage in healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.”