It is suggested that some people, in their efforts to lose weight, emulate celebrities and magazine cover models. When it comes to teen girls’ motivations for shedding excess pounds, that theory falls flat. According to a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (2010; 51 [1], 64–78), teen girls are more likely to look to peers and school culture when developing weight loss goals.

The researchers analyzed information provided by about 4,000 girls in grades 7–12. The girls were asked, “Are you trying to lose weight, gain weight or stay the same?” Each girl’s response was then compared with her self-reported body mass index.

“What our findings showed was that girls were more aware of what others like them were doing,” stated lead study author Anna Mueller of the University of Texas, Austin. “Underweight girls were not likely to be trying to lose weight, unless they were in schools where underweight girls regularly reported trying to lose weight.”

Diane Vives, MS, owner and director of Fit4Austin and Vives Training Systems in Austin, is not surprised by these data. “Being influenced by a community of peers is extremely powerful, no matter the age or gender,” she says. “Fitness professionals must understand that this is a wide-open opportunity.”

Vives believes that teen girls are often underserved in sponsored programs, sports and fitness communities. “When we see such profound differences in girls versus boys in issues such as ACL injuries and perceptions of ‘being the right weight,’ for example, neglect is present. This identifies a need, and we must turn that into supplying [a service to meet] a demand.”

So how do interested professionals successfully appeal to this teen population? “If your business is about building fit cultures, targeting groups instead of individuals (sports programs, small-group personal training or after-school group programs) and providing solutions for schools and parents, you will be ahead of the curve, and I guarantee you will be a huge success,” says Vives.