Poor body image in teen girls leads to more alcohol consumption: study

A study out of Tufts University found a link between alcohol use in teen girls and negative body image. Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A new study out of Tufts University has found that teen girls with body image issues are more likely to drink alcohol.

Published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the study examined the effects of body image and behavioural misperception (BIBM) on drinking habits in teen girls aged 14 to 18 (grades 9 to 12).

Researchers analyzed Youth Risk Behaviour Survey data collected from nearly 7,000 respondents. This information was used to measure lifetime alcohol use (drinking more than a few sips of alcohol in the last 30 days), current alcohol use and current heavy episodic drinking (consuming more than five drinks in a few hours).

READ MORE: Teens spending less time smoking, drinking, more time texting: study

And the results are very sobering.

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In total, 37.5 per cent of respondents suffered from BIBM. Of that total, 67.7 per cent reported lifetime alcohol use, 32.9 per cent reported current alcohol use, and 17.8 per cent engaged in heavy episodic drinking. Overall, BIBM was associated with 1.29 greater odds for lifetime alcohol use and 1.22 greater odds for heavy episodic drinking.

Consistent with general public health findings, the researchers saw higher odds of drinking (including current use and heavy episodic drinking) in girls in Grade 12 compared to those in Grade 9.

“We found significant relationships between this [body] misperception and reporting ever having had alcohol, as well as reporting episodic heavy drinking among high school girls,” Dr. Margie Skeer, co-author of the study, said to the Daily Mail.

“Paying attention to this behaviour in this population could help identify factors supporting the relationship between this misperception and drinking, as well as other risk behaviours beyond high school.”

The study also reviewed ethnic information and found that Hispanic girls with BIBM were more susceptible to drinking than Caucasian girls, while African American girls were least likely to drink.

READ MORE: Is your child struggling with weight, body image? Here’s how parents can help

“There may be different cultural factors at play, but we were not able to understand this due the limitations of the data,” Anna Schlissel, lead author of the study, told Global News. “However, these findings are consistent with other research that has examined trajectories of alcohol use among youth of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

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Researchers were not able to determine exactly how BIBM affected drinking patterns, but they hypothesized that alcohol could be used as a coping mechanism, or as a way to lose or gain weight. A link to bullying, which could result in distorted body perception and risky behaviour, was also posited, according to Schlissel.

“The connection between BIBM and drinking is something that we are really interested in looking at in the future,” Schlissel said. “Because of the limitations of the data we really couldn’t tease this out but some of our hypotheses is that alcohol could be used for a wide variety of reasons including making girls feel more comfortable in social settings.”


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