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Young Women Who Self-Weigh Get Depressed and Develop Body Image Issues

For some people, a daily or weekly weigh-in is a practical gauge of where they stand in their efforts to maintain or lose weight. For adolescents and young adults—especially young women—however, it’s not a good idea, say researchers from the University of Minnesota. In fact, it may have negative psychological outcomes.

Researchers tracked the self-weighing behaviors of nearly 1,900 young adults as part of Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults) and found that increases in self-weighing were significantly related to increases in weight concern and depression and to decreases in body satisfaction and self-esteem among females, according to the authors of the study, which appeared in the November–December 2015 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

“Females who strongly agreed they self-weighed reported engaging in extremely dangerous weight-control behaviors at a rate of 80%,” said lead author Carly R. Pacanowski, PhD, RD, in a podcast interview. “Adolescent obesity is a public health concern, but body dissatisfaction and weight concerns are predictors of eating disorders. This makes it critical that obesity-prevention programs avoid exacerbating these predictors by understanding how behaviors such as self-weighing affect teens.”

Project EAT is a longitudinal cohort study that tracked 1,868 male and female young adults over 10 years. Researchers used participants’ descriptions of the prevalence of their self-weighing to examine associations between self-weighing and changes in weight status, psychological variables and behavioral outcomes. Self-weighing, ideal weight, weight concern, body satisfaction, self-esteem and depressive symptoms were ranked by participants using a Likert scale; adolescents also reported their engagement in unhealthy and “extreme unhealthy” behaviors. The researchers calculated body mass index for participants as well.

The primary aim was to understand how changes in self-weighing were related to changes in the other variables studied. Results indicated that females who reported increases in self-weighing over the 10-year period were expected to have increases in weight concern and depressive symptoms and decreases in body satisfaction and self-esteem. As such, self-weighing may not be an innocuous behavior, and care should be taken when young adults report self-weighing.

“Clinicians should ask adolescent patients about self-weighing at office visits to determine any benefits or negative outcomes,” Pacanowski added. “Noting changes in this behavior over time can be helpful for investigating other, more concerning changes in well-being among young adults.”

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