Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 355-368

The impact of puberty and dating on eating problems among middle school girls

  • Linda SmolakAffiliated withKenyon College
  • , Michael P. LevineAffiliated withKenyon College
  • , Sarah GralenAffiliated withKenyon and M.S.W., University of North Carolina

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Puberty has been related to the onset of a variety of weight concerns and eating problems among middle school girls, including body dissatisfaction, dieting, and eating disorders. At least two models can be used to explain these relationships. The first emphasizes the timing of puberty, arguing that girls who face early puberty are particularly stressed because of the off-time nature of the event. The second focuses on synchronous events. For girls more than boys, puberty is likely to coincide with the change from elementary to middle school and/or beginning to date. Such synchronous events may create greater stress for girls. Seventy-nine girls were tested during the spring of their sixth- and eighth-grade years. Pubertal and dating status, body dissatisfaction, weight management, and eating disordered attitudes (using the Children's EAT:ChEAT) were assessed. The simple timing model (early vs. on time vs. late) was not supported. The simple synchronous model received some support in that girls with synchronous onset of menstruation and dating had higher ChEAT scores as well as greater body dissatisfaction. However, the data indicated that girls for whom puberty was early and coincidental with dating might be at unusual risk. These girls showed the highest levels of body dissatisfaction and the highest ChEAT scores.