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Differential Risk Factors for Unhealthy Weight Control Behaviors by Sex and Weight Status Among U.S. Adolescents



To determine if previously reported risk factors for the development of unhealthy weight control behaviors differ by sex and weight status using a nationally representative longitudinal sample of adolescents followed through young adulthood.


We used nationally representative longitudinal cohort data collected from baseline (11-18 years old, 1994-1995, Wave I) and seven-year follow-up (18-24 years old, 2001-2002, Wave III) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). We examined potential risk factors (adverse childhood events and adolescent family, school, body image, and mental health factors) for the development of unhealthy weight control behaviors including vomiting, fasting/skipping meals, or laxative/diuretic use to lose weight at seven-year follow-up in young adulthood.


Of the 14,322 included subjects, 11% reported unhealthy weight control behavior at follow-up in young adulthood, with the highest proportion (23.7%) among overweight/obese females and the lowest proportion (3.7%) among underweight/normal weight males. All adolescent family factors were significantly associated with unhealthy weight control behaviors in underweight/normal weight females, whereas none were significantly associated in overweight/obese males. Similar trends were noted for adverse childhood events, and adolescent school and community factors. Adolescent self-perception of being overweight was associated with young adult unhealthy weight control behaviors among all subgroups.


Risk factors for unhealthy weight control behaviors may differ based on sex and weight status. Screening, prevention, and treatment interventions for unhealthy weight control behaviors in adolescents and young adults may need to be tailored based on sex and weight status.

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