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Body dissatisfaction

Body dissatisfaction begins before teens and remains into adulthood

Having a positive body image is integral to positive well-being during adolescence, when one is developing a sense of self-identity

Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health data have reported that body dissatisfaction begins before adolescence and remains constant at least until age 30 with nearly 95% of participants stating that body dissatisfaction increased slightly over time (however, this trend is attributed to people who also experienced gradual weight gains) or had high body dissatisfaction that began in adolescence but slightly decreased into adulthood.

The study, ‘Fifteen-Year Prevalence, Trajectories, and Predictors of Body Dissatisfaction From Adolescence to Middle Adulthood’, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, analysed survey data from 1,455 Project EAT participants who have routinely completed surveys about their eating, weight, and mental health as well as other aspects of well-being every five years. Participants completed the surveys between approximately age 15-30 and are now providing researchers with snapshots of participants' health at different phases of development.

"The findings seem to suggest that body dissatisfaction develops and becomes relatively fixed even before adolescence," said study lead, Dr Shirley Wang, a PhD student at Harvard University. "The numbers remain stable from the start of the surveys in adolescence all the way into adulthood, and even the groups that fluctuate return to their initial levels."

Wang said the fluctuating patterns could be explained by factors such as social influence. For example, those who started low and fluctuated reported that they had peers who were dieting during adolescence and young adulthood, which may have temporarily changed how they felt about their own bodies.

In response to these new findings, Wang recommends that the public health community develop or adapt body dissatisfaction prevention programs to suit children and address the problem sooner. She also said the results provide evidence that there may be a window in childhood or early adolescence when ideas about the self and self-image are developing. Understanding the window could be a path for related research to help refine the targeting of future interventions.

"Having a positive body image is integral to positive well-being during adolescence, when one is developing a sense of self-identity,” said the study's senior author and director of Project EAT Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. “It can be challenging, however, due to rapid growth and many physical changes during this period and the many social pressures that young people face to conform to a certain ideal."

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