TIME health

Dieting Young Makes Women More Likely to Be Obese Later

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New research says managing weight at a young age could lead to dangerous behavior later in life

New research suggests that the younger a woman is when she first starts dieting, the more likely she will be to suffer from adverse health effects later in life.

Led by Dr. Pamela Keel of Florida State University, a team of researchers interviewed college women every decade beginning in 1982, and followed up with each woman 10 years later to evaluate how dieting impacted their long-term health. Those women who began trying to manage their weight at a young age were more likely to practice behaviors like induced vomiting and excessive drinking, and were also more likely to be overweight or obese by the time they were 30.

The research is careful not to speculate the cause of this correlation, but does suggest healthy behavior should be promoted in girls as early as elementary school to prevent negative body image as they enter puberty. Since more than half of teenage girls attempt to control their weight in unhealthy ways, from suppressing their appetite with cigarettes to taking laxatives to suffering from anorexia or bulimia, a huge number of women are at risk for weight-related complications later in life. Parents who are concerned about their children’s weight are advised to implement a more holistic approach than dieting, such as helping their kids to get more exercise, cutting down on screen time and putting more fruits and vegetables on the plate at dinnertime.

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