Up to 46% of adolescents in the United States report feeling dissatisfied with their bodies. This can lead to eating disorders, obesity, poor mental health and other serious problems – show the results of research carried out by the University of Minnesota, USA.

According to researchers [1], body dissatisfaction begins before adolescence and remains constant at least until age 30.

Researchers from University of Minnesota, USA analysed survey data from 1,455 Project EAT [2] participants who have routinely completed surveys. They related their eating, weight, and mental health as well as other aspects of well-being every five years. Participants completed the surveys between approximately age 15-30.

The analysis showed:

  • body dissatisfaction increased slightly over time for both men and women. However, the trend is attributed to people who also experienced gradual weight gains;
  • nearly 95% of participants fell into two patterns:
    • consistently high body dissatisfaction beginning in adolescence but slightly decreasing into adulthood
    • consistently low body dissatisfaction beginning in adolescence but slightly increasing into adulthood
  • the remaining two patterns that emerged were:
    • starting with high body dissatisfaction, decreasing during adolescence, then increasing into adulthood
    • starting with low body dissatisfaction, increasing during adolescence, then decreasing into adulthood 

‘The findings seem to suggest that body dissatisfaction develops and becomes relatively fixed even before adolescence,’ said study lead Shirley Wang, a PhD student at Harvard University. ‘The numbers remain stable from the start of the surveys in adolescence all the way into adulthood, and even the groups that fluctuate return to their initial levels.’

Wang recommends that the public health community develop or adapt prevention programs to suit children and address the problem sooner. She also said the results provide evidence that there may be a window in childhood or early adolescence when ideas about the self and self-image are developing.