Teens Try to Lose Weight by Smoking, Diet Pills
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More US high school students are trying to lose weight than need to, and many are adopting unhealthy practices to reach their goals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Based on surveys of more than 15,000 high school students, Dr. Richard Lowry and his colleagues discovered that students who may not be overweight or in danger of becoming so are nonetheless trying to shed pounds.
While some students are trying to lose weight through diet and exercise, the authors found that almost one third of female dieters and one fifth of male dieters were resorting to less healthy techniques, including fasting, or using diet pills and laxatives. In addition, girls who said they were trying to lose weight were 40% more likely to smoke cigarettes than their less weight-conscious female peers.
"Efforts to promote healthy weight management among adolescents are needed and should place greater emphasis on combining physical activity with a reduced fat and calorie diet, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, and discouraging smoking and other unhealthy weight control practices," Lowry and his team write.
Reporting in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, Lowry and his team obtained their findings from national surveys collected in 1999 from 15,349 high school students.
Levels of obesity were measured using body mass index (BMI), a gauge of weight in relation to height. Students were considered obese if their BMIs fit into the top 5% for their age and gender, and were categorized as at risk of becoming overweight if their BMIs fell within the top 15% for their age and gender.
Lowry and his colleagues found that 25% of the surveyed students were either overweight or at risk of becoming so. However, they note, a significantly higher percentage--43%-- said they were actively trying to lose weight, while another 19% said they were working on keeping their weight stable. Obesity was less common among female students than males, but females were more likely than males to say they were trying to shed pounds.
Although a good number of teen dieters--62% of women and 41% of men--reported adopting healthy slimming strategies, 32% of female dieters and 17% of males relied on potentially dangerous techniques to drop pounds, including laxatives, fasting, diet pills, or vomiting.
Based on these findings, Lowry and his team write that programs aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic among US youth should emphasize healthy and effective ways to shed pounds, including exercise and diet. Furthermore, they note, only one quarter of students reported eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Interventions to combat rising BMIs should focus not only on foods to avoid, but also those that should be included in healthy diets, they said.
Exercise may be an especially important component of a healthy weight loss program, Lowry and his team add, given that, in the present study, teens who exercised to control their weight were also likely to adopt other healthy behaviors, such as eating right and, in males, not smoking cigarettes.