Irish teenagers 'waisting' away

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Irish teenage girls are going on crash diets (binge dieting behaviour) to find love and happiness, according to University of Ulster research.

At a recent International Consumer Sciences research conference, organised by the Institute of Consumer Sciences, some interesting results were reported.

Some 80% of 400 14-16 year-olds who took part in a survey of their eating and dieting habits, said it was important to be slim to attract the attention of boys and achieve self-confidence.

One girl said: “Lads will always go for the skinny looking blonde first”; many saw a “flat stomach and long legs” as being the optimum body shape.

More than 7 out of ten (72%) said they were not satisfied with their current body shape/weight and wanted to be slimmer. And 46% thought themselves overweight even though visual observation indicated that they were not; 49% reported they had dieted to lose weight with 38% currently on a diet.

The survey by Elaine Mooney, a Home Economics lecturer at St Angela’s College in Sligo and a doctoral student at UU, revealed that pop icons like Britney Spears, Posh Spice and Beyonce were the role models of many Irish teenagers.

These young girls know in minute detail the eating and dieting regimes of such celebrities after reading about them in teenage magazines, such magazines carry articles and pictures featuring the dieting practices of celebrities.

The teenagers regarded the Atkins diet as ‘old hat’ and no longer ‘cool’. One young girl said: “On Atkins you get really bad breath. I would sooner have cancer”. The GI diet was now the slimming plan of choice.

Dr Chris Strugnell, a senior lecturer in Consumer Sciences at UU and Elaine’s supervisor, said: “These results are a real concern. This is an important time in the life of adolescent girls and they are not only indulging in poor food choices and practices but, more worryingly, are missing important and essential nutrients at this point in their lives”.

Home Economics/Consumer Studies has an important part to play in delivering consumer education to young people via the school curriculum.

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