In looking at data on 4,187 teens from the 1999 South Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey, researchers found that about 19.2 percent qualified as being "extreme dieters," turning to methods like diet pills or vomiting to try to control their weight. Another 42 percent were considered "moderate dieters" who ate less and exercised more to control their weight.
Among the extreme dieters, rates of drug and alcohol use, smoking and suicide were all higher than those who used more moderate dieting methods. The study looked at white and black males and females. While the highest rates of both extreme and moderate dieting were among white females, black males had higher levels of extreme dieting practices, such as using diet pills and vomiting, than black females.
Not all extreme dieter behaviors were worse than the others; they weren't found to have more unprotected sex or to consume fewer fruits and vegetables than moderate or non-dieters, the study found.
The researchers speculate that the problem behaviors may reflect underlying issues of self-esteem or peer influence.
They add that although females are often the focus of dieting concerns, adolescent males are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their body image and should not be excluded from weight control research.
The study is published in the January/February issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers this helpful information: Take Charge of Your Health: A Teenager's Guide to Better Health.