Low Body Satisfaction Predicts Heath- Compromising Behaviours

Does Body Satisfaction Matter? Five-year Longitudinal Associations between Body Satisfaction and Health Behaviors in Adolescent Females and Males.

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Susan J. Paxton, Peter J. Hannan, Jess Haines, and Mary Story, 2005 full study

What’s it about?

The researchers are addressing the question: “does body satisfaction matter?”. Is it necessary for us to like our bodies? They planned to compare the occurrence of heath-promoting or health-compromising behaviours with study results collected five years earlier.

Who took part?

2516 students from Minnesota schools (1130 male and 1386 females), with an average age of 20.4 years. Participants were selected after taking part in a previous study five years prior.

How was this studied?

Participants answered questions which investigated: body satisfaction, dieting and weight control behaviours*, binge eating, smoking, physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake, BMI, gender, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

*Definition of weight control behaviours:

  • Healthy: exercised, ate more fruits and vegetables, ate less high-fat foods, and ate less sweets.
  • Unhealthy: fasted, ate very little food, used a food substitute (powder or a special drink), skipped meals, smoked more cigarettes
  • Very Unhealthy: took diet pills, self-induced vomited, used laxatives, and used diuretics

What was found?

In females, lower body satisfaction predicted:

  • higher levels of dieting
  • unhealthy and very unhealthy weight control behaviours
  • binge eating
  • lower levels of physical activity
  • lower levels of fruit and vegetable intake

The association between lower body satisfaction and higher levels of dieting, unhealthy weight control behaviors and lower levels of physical activity was consistent with females regardless of their BMI.

In males, lower body satisfaction predicted:

  • higher levels of dieting
  • healthy, unhealthy and very unhealthy weight control behaviours
  • binge eating
  • likelihood of smoking
  • lower levels of physical activity

The association between lower body satisfaction and higher levels of dieting, unhealthy weight control behaviors and binge eating was consistent across males, regardless of their weight.

The bottom line:

Lower levels of body satisfaction are associated with more health compromising behaviours. Any potential advantages, such as adopting “healthy weight control” behaviours (eating more fruit and veg, exercising more etc.) occurred alongside unhealthy behaviours, so cannot be considered beneficial.

Overall, lower body satisfaction does not motivate people to engaging in healthy behaviours. It actually predicts that people are more likely to take part in unhealthy behaviours and ultimately puts them at risk of poorer overall health.

It is clear that body satisfaction is important in our overall well-being. Instead of promoting public health messages that discourage an individual’s current body satisfaction, it may be more effective to encourage positive body satisfaction and increase the desire to care for our bodies. Increasing body satisfaction will potentially improve physical wellbeing as it is linked to increased change of taking part in beneficial healthy behaviours.