PurposeThe aim of this article was to determine the relationship between gender norms and weight control behaviors in U.S. adolescents.
MethodsWe analyzed prospective cohort data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (N = 9,861), at baseline in 1994-1995 (ages 11-18 years, Wave I), 1-year follow-up (ages 12-19 years, Wave II), and 7-year follow-up (ages 18-26 years, Wave III). The primary exposure variable was a measure of one's gender normativity based on the degree to which males and females behave in ways that are similar to the behaviors of their same-gender peers. The outcome variable was an individual's weight control attempts (trying to lose or gain weight) and behaviors (dieting, fasting/skipping meals, vomiting, or weight-loss pills/laxatives/diuretics to lose weight or ate different/more foods than usual or taking supplements to gain weight).
ResultsIn logistic regression analyses controlling for potential confounders, a higher baseline individual gender normativity score (higher femininity in females and higher masculinity in males) was associated with weight loss attempts (? = .10; p = .01) and weight loss behaviors (? = .18; p < .001) in girls but was associated with weight gain attempts (? = .18; p < .001) and behaviors (? = .16; p < .001) in boys at 1-year follow-up. Higher individual gender normativity score was protective of weight loss attempts (? = -.15; p < .001) and weight loss behaviors (? = -.17; p < .001) in males but not females at 7-year follow-up. Loess plots provided visualizations of significant relationships.
ConclusionsGender norms may reinforce a thinner body ideal for girls but a larger ideal for boys.