A new study from the University of Waterloo has found a link between dieting in teenage girls and their likelihood to engage in risky behaviours like smoking, skipping breakfast, and binge drinking.
The team analysed data from 3,300 high school girls in Ontario, who were enrolled in COMPASS, a longitudinal school-based study.
The researchers found that girls who were dieting when data was first collected were more likely to engage in one or more risky behaviours three years later than their peers who didn't diet.
They found that girls who dieted were more 1.6 times more likely to smoke and skip breakfast. As well, those who dieted were 1.5 times more likely to smoke and binge drink.
"It might seem natural for there to be a connection between dieting and behaviours such as smoking and skipping meals, but the explanation is not so clear for something like binge drinking," Amanda Raffoul, PhD candidate in Public Health and Health Systems and lead researcher, told Science Daily.
"Our findings suggest that dieting and other risky health behaviours may be related to common underlying factors, such as poor body image."
These health-compromising behaviours and their link with dieting is concerning considering just how prevalent dieting is amongst teenage girls.
"The link between dieting and other health-compromising behaviours is worrisome since 70 percent of girls reported dieting at some point over the three years," Raffoul noted.
"Post-puberty changes often lead to weight gain among girls and there is incredible pressure from social media and elsewhere to obtain and maintain the ideal body."
Raffoul further explained, "Intentional weight loss is not something we should necessarily encourage, especially among this population, since it's possible that well-meaning initiatives that promote dieting may be doing more harm than good.
"Instead, we should focus on health broadly rather than weight as an indicator of health."
Are you surprised by the study's findings?