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Body image satisfaction, dieting beliefs, and weight-loss behaviors in adolescent girls and boys

Paxton, S.J., Wertheim, E.H., Kay Gibbons, G.I., Szmukler, L.H., & Petrovich, J.L. (1991, June). Body image satisfaction, dieting beliefs, and weight-loss behaviors in adolescent girls and boys. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, pp. 361-377.


According to the study

Research in the past decade has pointed to a high prevalence of body dissatisfaction and weight loss behaviors among adolescents, especially girls. These finding are cause for concern since poor body image and weight loss behaviors have been associated with disordered eating in female adolescent samples.

An interesting factor is that this study identifies that, "in reviewing past literature, it becomes clear that not all studies find similar proportions of subjects reporting body dissatisfaction."

The aim was to assess body image and weight loss beliefs and behaviors in 341 female and 221 male high school students in the greater Melbourne area. They were also interested in how cross-cultural factors influenced the findings because ‘it is important to ascertain the prevalence of body image dissatisfaction and dieting behaviors in other adolescent samples, in order to assess how generalizable U.S. results are to other western communities.’


In one room, the students completed a number of self-report questionnaires that were coded to insure confidentially. The students’ height and weight measurements were then taken in a separate room. Their body image attitudes were measured and assessed according to the "Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness" subscales of the Eating Disorders Inventory and the "Body Figure Perception Questionnaire." Also, "An Eating and Diet Questionnaire, constructed for this study, assessed dieting history, sources of information on weight loss methods, and peer and parental pressure to diet."


In estimating their weights, 29.1% of girls and 12.3% of boys left this question blank, while 27.1% of girls and 12.3% of boys omitted an estimate of height. Boys were quite accurate in their estimates of weight and height. The girls were slightly less accurate. Girls, but not boys, significantly underestimated their height. The study notes that "Body dissatisfaction measured on the EDI subscale showed significantly greater dissatisfaction in girls than boys." Also, "In relation to the Body Figure Perception Questionnaire, girls more often choose an ideal thinner than their current figure (71.4% of girls, 33% of boys), and less often chose an ideal figure equal to their current one (20.5% of girls, 30.1% of boys), or greater than their current figure (8.1% of girls, 36.8 of boys). Forty-nine percent of girls and 7.8% of boys chose an ideal figure smaller than their current figure." Concerning female dieting behavior, 22.9% dieted once, 20.2% dieted two or three times, 11% many times, and 45.8% never dieted. For boys, 11.4% dieted once, 1.4% dieted one or two times, and 2.7% dieted many times. Older subjects reported dieting slightly more than younger ones, but not of significant proportions.


The study indicates

Estimates of body dissatisfaction varied depending on the measurement strategy used. Despite having similar weight distributions around the expected norm, girls were significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies. Body Mass Index was positively related to body dissatisfaction in girls and boys, while higher exercise levels were related to higher body satisfaction in boys. Nearly two-thirds of girls and boys believed being thinner would have an impact on their lives, but the majority of girls believed this would be positive, while the majority of the boys believed this would be negative. Thirteen percent of female subjects reported using one or more extreme weight loss behavior at least weekly. Weight loss behaviors in this Australian sample appear similar to comparable U.S. samples.


  1. It is important to understand the trends and perceptions of teenagers. By better understanding the findings of this study, parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone who interacts with teenagers will be able to reassure adolescents in the areas that make them uncomfortable.
  2. Concerning eating disorders, weight loss behavior, and body image, it is important to become more sensitive about the pressures that teenagers face. By being educated on such topics, youth workers have the ability to ask thought provoking questions to help young people work through pertinent issues (i.e., why the media continue to portray the ideal woman as flawless and thin; how peer pressure in schools may drive teens to extreme self-deprivation in order to keep up with what society has deemed the thin, the popular, and the beautiful.)
  3. There are several immediate things that youth workers can do. Treat all kids equally, and try to encourage and include those who are excluded by their peers. Model this behavior in all situations and organize inclusive activities so that everyone can succeed. Bring attention to other areas where kids have succeeded. Plan seminars or small group discussions that address how media and peer pressure can negatively influence young people. Most of all, be aware of the early signs of teens struggling with these problems and know how to find them help.
Tamara Lange cCYS