Eating Behavior in Junior High School Females

Article excerpt

Prevalence studies of bulimia strongly suggest that a significant number of adolescents binge eat and use radical means, such as vomiting and strict dieting, to control their weight (Herzog, 1982; Maceyko & Nagleberg, 1985). Several investigators have sought to establish the prevalence of bulimia in normal adolescent populations. In the first study with a high school population, Carter and Duncan (1984) found a prevalence rate of 8% in 442 high school females. Pope, Hudson, Yurgelun-Todd, and Hudson (1984) reported a rate of 8.4% in senior high school female teenagers. In a study of 1,093 high school students between the ages of 14-18 years, Vanthorre and Vogel (1985) reported that the highest percentage of bulimia was among 14-year-olds. Crowther, Post, and Zaynor (1985) investigated binge eating and bulimia in an adolescent high school female population and found a prevalence rate of 7.7%. The studies of bulimia across a variety of age groups have yielded rates that range from 2% (Thelen, Mann, Pruitt, & Smith, 1986) to 20% (Pope et al., 1984). According to Thelen et al. (1986) one reason for the variation may be due to problems in the assessment of bulimia. While prevalence estimates of bulimia vary enormously, even the most conservative figures are alarmingly high.

Researchers have proposed that strict dieting and exaggerated preoccupation with body weight may be a precursor to the development of clinical and/or subclinical forms of eating disorders (Shisslak, Crago, Neal, & Swain, 1987). In a recent study by Greenfield, Quinlan, Harding, Glass, and Bliss (1987), 424 males and 337 females ranging in age from 13 to 19 years completed The Eating Habits Questionnaire. Results of this study indicated a high frequency of concern with weight, body image, and dieting, especially among women. Greenfield et al. (1987) reported that these concerns seem to be associated with such behaviors as crash diets, fasting, binge eating, self-induced vomiting, and various forms of purging.

The present study surveyed past and present eating behaviors as well as attitudes regarding dieting and concern about body weight in female junior high school students. The results of the study by Greenfield et al. (1987) and the aforementioned prevalence studies suggest that adolescents have well-formulated attitudes about eating and what constitutes ideal body weight. Perhaps if the age of initiation for overconcern with body weight can be determined, these younger populations can be targeted for intervention before attitudes regarding body weight and dieting are firmly established.



Subjects were female students in Home Economics I classes in three predominantly middle-class midwestern junior high schools (N = 175). Data collected from all subjects were anonymous and self-reported; 86.2% of subjects were in the 8th grade and 13.8% were in the 9th grade. The mean age was 13.71 years, and the mean self-reported height and weight were 63.74 and 119.34, respectively. The average body mass for all subjects was .029 (weight/[height.sup.2]). Over half of the subjects were Caucasian (72.6%), 11.9% were black, and 15.5% were of other ethnic origins.


The questionnaire consisted of 19 items and included background questions concerning grade in school, birthdate, age, ethnicity, weight, and height. Using a 7-point Likert scale with 7 representing "very often" various aspects of dieting, including questions related to social aspects were measured. In addition, the subjects were asked their age when dieting first occurred, dieting during the previous year, dieting behavior at time of testing, radical dieting, mood after consumption of large quantities of food, and concern about body weight. The questionnaire was administered to all students in all the Home Economics I classes by their teachers.


The results revealed that many subjects expressed a widespread concern with dieting. …