Sociocultural influences on attitudes to weight and eating: Results of a natural experiment

Authors

  • Jane Wardle,

    Corresponding author
    1. Cancer Research UK, Health Behaviour Unit, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    • Cancer Research UK, Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
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  • Rachel Watters

    1. Department of Psychology, University College London, London, United Kingdom
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Abstract

Objective

Exposure to teenage culture is widely believed to contribute to concerns about weight in children and adolescents. The current study tested the hypothesis that greater exposure to older girls at school would be associated with thinner size ideals, increased concern about weight, and more dieting.

Method

Participants (n = 200) were 9 and 11-year-old girls. The age of the oldest pupils in the school defined the exposure variable. Nine-year-olds in junior schools (oldest pupils = 11) and 11-year-olds in middle schools (oldest pupils = 13) were defined as nonexposed. Nine-year-olds in middle schools (oldest pupils = 13) and 11-year-olds in secondary schools (oldest pupils = 18) were defined as exposed. Girls were weighed and measured and completed measures of ideal size, perceived weight, body esteem, eating attitudes, dieting, and self-esteem.

Results

Being at a school with older pupils was associated with having a thinner ideal, feeling more overweight, having more friends who had dieted, scoring higher on the Child Eating Attitudes Test, and having lower self-esteem. Effects were strongest among the 9-year-olds.

Discussion

Exposure to older girls in school may accelerate the development of negative attitudes to weight and eating. © 2004 by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Int J Eat Disord 35: 589–596, 2004.

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