Body esteem and dietary restraint in children and young adults: associations with body mass index and diet quality

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Megan C. Lawless (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Lenka Shriver

Abstract: This research examined the following major aims via three separate studies: 1) how body esteem develops in middle childhood, 2) the nature of the relationship between dietary restraint and body weight in middle childhood, and 3) whether and how diet quality may differ according to varying degrees of dietary restraint in young adults. In study 1, longitudinal trajectories of body esteem were explored in a sample of elementary school-aged children. While previous research suggests that levels of body dissatisfaction begin to decrease in adolescence, the current literature on body dissatisfaction among younger children is scarce. The findings of the current study, utilizing a sample of 1111 children aged 6-9 years indicated that children’s body esteem scores generally increased; however, there was great variability in the degree to which scores changed over time. Furthermore, although gender did not appear to have an impact on the body esteem trajectories, differences in the body esteem score patterns were identified by child weight status. The aim of study 2 was to investigate the direction of the associations between dietary restraint and weight in a sample of elementary school-aged children. While numerous studies have described associations between weight status and dietary restraint in cross-sectional designs, only a few have examined the potential prospective relations between these constructs. The current study is unique in that it considers the bidirectional nature of weight and dietary restraint development over time in a sample of elementary school-aged children (n=263). Findings from the cross-lagged design controlling for sex, race/ethnicity, and weight status in first grade suggest that children’s weight status in 3rd grade better predicts levels of dietary restraint in grade 4 rather than the other way around. Finally, study 3 examined the quality of the diet of young adults by the level of self-reported dietary restraint in a sample of young adults (n=215). Some emerging research has found dietary restraint to be an indicator of self-control in eating, but so far, no studies have examined how dietary restraint influences diet quality scores or other eating-related patterns in young adulthood. Results from this study revealed dietary restraint did predict higher overall diet quality in young adulthood. In particular, young adults in our sample with higher levels of restraint reported higher consumption of total vegetables, greens and beans, total fruit, whole fruit, seafood and plant proteins and lower intakes of added sugars. Future research should consider the different potential dimensions of dietary restraint and the degree of restraint in relation to potential effects on health outcomes in young adults. Overall, this research contributes to a better understanding of some specific psychological correlates related to obesity and diet quality in childhood and young adulthood, namely body esteem and dietary restraint. Future studies are warranted to extend these findings by including multiple measures of body image and dietary restraint to broaden the investigation of these factors in children and young adults.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2021
Body Esteem, Diet Quality, Dietary Restraint, Middle Childhood, Obesity, Young Adults
Body image
Eating disorders
Body mass index
Food habits

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