Women who begin dieting at a young age are more likely to suffer eating disorders and alcohol problems
- Study at Florida State University studied 1,340 female students for 10 years
- Found some women began dieting from as young as THREE
- Early dieting can leave women at risk of eating disorders and obesity
The earlier a woman starts to diet, the more prone she will be to health problems such as eating disorders and alcohol misuse, scientists have warned.
A study at Florida State University followed 1,340 students for 10 years and found cultural pressures to stay thin affect women of all ages.
Some began to watch their weight and actively diet at the age of three, while others started to follow a calorie-controlled programme at the age of 26.
Researchers noted the earlier a woman started to diet, the more likely they were to suffer long-term health consquences.
Psychology professor Pamela Keel, who led the team, said: ‘Younger age of dieting predicts greater problems 10 years out from college.’
She said it is not completely clear why dieting at an early age may have such an effect on health later in life.
One possible reason was ‘there is already something different’ about women who start dieting at an early age in terms of their social environment or genetic make-up.
The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour, revealed those factors can stay with a woman for life, increasing the risk of resorting to extreme dieting or other unhealthy behaviours later in life.
Eating disorders are often driven by social, psychological and biological factors, said Professor Keel.
She said discouraging weight loss diets in young girls may reduce risk for eating, alcohol and weight-related problems in adulthood.
Public health initiatives should promote behaviours that increase wellness in girls such as increasing activity, decreasing leisure time watching TV and on computers and consuming more fruits and vegetables.
Such interventions could be necessary as early as primary school to support girls before they enter puberty – a time when their bodies will naturally experience rapid growth, weight gain and an increase in body fat.
The Florida State University study found women were more prone to suffering eating disorders, obesity and alcohol misuse