Study: Eating & Body Image Issues Plague Youth

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

A recent study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that a vast majority of both male and female youth report being plagued by some kind of eating or body image problem.

The Daily Mail is reporting on the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine which found that just two percent of females, and seven percent of males, say they never suffered from some kind of eating or body issue.

Researchers from Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults) tracked 1,455 participants every five years since 1998 and found that around 78 percent of women had at least one eating or weight-related problem when they were first surveyed. By the fourth and final survey, this number had grown to 82 percent.

The men surveyed followed a similar pattern with 60 percent saying they had one of these issues on the first survey, and 69 percent reporting an issue by the fourth.

For both genders, the most prevalent issue was unhealthy weight-control behaviors.

Researchers also found that problems surrounding eating and weight gain in teenagers tends to persist later in life.

“This means that practically everyone is affected at some point by one of these concerning issues, which are harmful to their health and that could also affect the health of their future families,” said lead author and professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer.

“As a society, we need to accept that people come in different shapes and sizes,” professor Neumark-Sztainer said.

Researchers say “comprehensive interventions” are needed before children enter adolescence to prevent young women from developing issues about their eating habits and weight because of fears that these issues will persist into adulthood.

“People often think some of these problems are part of being an adolescent, but we see that they persist into later life,” she said.

This explains why, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S. Sadly, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness with one person dying from this condition every 62 minutes.

For women in particular, body image issues are difficult to deal with, especially while living in a culture where the media persistently touts impossible beauty standards such as razor-thin models, perfect complexions, and plastic surgery to take care of any and all “flaws” in our appearance.  Women are under extreme pressure to meet the culture’s idea of beauty, which is too often unachievable unless she resorts to unhealthy dieting and excessive exercise programs.

The impact on teen girls is even worse. Eating Disorder Hope reports that 50% of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight. These behaviors are starting earlier and earlier with studies reporting 46 percent of nine to 11-year-olds are sometimes, or very often, on diets.

Those of us who labor for the Lord in apostolates that minister to women know that these sad statistics can be devastating, but they can also be reversed.

Our Women of Grace and Young Women of Grace Study Programs introduce women to a whole new understanding of their femininity by learning how to see themselves in God’s eyes. Realizing their feminine genius, and discovering their dignity as daughters of God has been a life-changing revelation for thousands. By finding strength and affirmation in their faith and the “sacred sisterhoods” they form in these groups, women not only discover the beauty of authentic femininity, but are infusing the world with a whole new idea of what it means to be a beautiful woman.

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