Ethnic differences in weight control practices among U.S. adolescents from 1995 to 2005

Yu-hsuen Chao, Wesleyan University


Background: Because of a proliferation of media images of ethnic minority models with unrealistic bodies and growing pressure on ethnic minority individuals to conform to White beauty ideals, we explored ethnic differences in trends in weight control practices among adolescents from 1995 to 2005. Method: The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) biennially assesses dieting, diet product use, purging, and exercise among nationally representative samples of 10,904 to 16,262 U.S. high school students obtained through 3-stage cluster sampling. Results: The prevalence of all weight control behaviors among male adolescents showed significant linear increases during the decade. Black females were less likely than Hispanic females, who were less likely than White females, to practice weight control. White males were less likely than Black males, who were less likely than Hispanic males, to practice weight control. The ethnic differences in weight control practices are consistent across time. Discussion: Contrary to expectations, Black females appear to continue to resist social and media pressure to pursue thinness. On the other hand, all male adolescents are at increasing risk for developing eating disorder symptomatology. In light of rising obesity rates, future research needs to differentiate healthy weight control practices from unhealthy weight control practices.


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