Objective: To assess the relationship between dieting and subsequent weight change and whether the association varies by gender or race/ethnicity.
Research Methods and Procedures: Male (n = 4100) and female (n = 4302) participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health who provided information on weight and height at baseline and two follow-up assessments and were not missing information on weight control strategies or race were studied. Generalized estimating equations were used to assess whether dieting to lose or maintain weight at Wave I or II predicted BMI (kg/m2) change between adolescence and young adulthood (Wave II to III). Analyses were stratified by gender and took sampling weights and clustering into account.
Results: At Wave I, the mean age of the participants was 14.9 years. Approximately 29.3% of female participants and 9.8% of male participants reported dieting in Wave I or II. Fewer African Americans than whites (6.2% vs. 10.0% and 25.5% vs. 31.2%, p = 0.007 and p = 0.02, among males and females, respectively) reported dieting. Between Waves II and III, participants gained on average 3.3 kg/m2. Independent of BMI gain during adolescence (Waves I to II), female participants who dieted to lose or maintain weight during adolescence made larger gains in BMI during the 5 years between Waves II and III (mean additional gain, 0.39 kg/m2; 95% confidence interval, 0.08 to 0.71) than their nondieting peers. The association was not significant among the male participants. The association was largest among African-American female participants.
Discussion: The results suggest that not only is dieting to lose weight ineffective, it is actually associated with greater weight gain, particularly among female adolescents. Female African-American dieters made the largest BMI gains.