Social status, family meals affect girls' eating habits

March 19, 2008

Adolescent girls may be at higher risk of weight gain if they perceive themselves as having a low social status, while they are at a lower risk of extreme dieting if they eat regular family meals, according to two studies published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Adolescent girls may be at higher risk of weight gain if they perceive themselves as having a low social status, while they are at a lower risk of extreme dieting if they eat regular family meals, according to two studies published in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Adina R. Lemeshow, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues studied 4,446 female subjects aged 12 to 18 who were enrolled in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS). The investigators found that subjects who rated themselves at the low end of the school subjective social status scale had a significantly increased 2-year risk of a 2-unit increase in body mass index (OR, 1.69) compared to other subjects.

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues studied 2,516 adolescents who participated in Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) and completed in-class assessments. The researchers found that regular family meals (at least five meals per week) were associated with a lower prevalence of extreme weight control behaviors in adolescent girls (OR, 0.71), but that regular meals did not predict lower levels of disordered eating behaviors in adolescent boys.

"Health-care professionals have an important role to play in reinforcing the benefits of family meals, helping families set realistic goals for increasing family meal frequency given schedules of adolescents and their parents, exploring ways to enhance the atmosphere at family meals with adolescents, and discussing strategies for creating healthful and easy-to-prepare family meals," Neumark-Sztainer and colleagues conclude.

Lemeshow AR, Fisher L, Goodman E, et al. Subjective social status in the school and change in adiposity in female adolescents: findings from a prospective cohort study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162:23-28.