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.
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.
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.
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.