March 8, 2001 -- Even among Girl Scouts, a group with a strong reputation for fostering self-esteem, a preoccupation with being thin is common.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health have found that nearly 30 percent of 234 Girl Scouts surveyed had tried to lose weight.
The girls were approximately 10 years old.
Most reported trying healthy methods to lose weight, such as increasing their levels of exercise and decreasing their consumption of high-fat foods, but 12 girls said they took diet pills, purged or used laxatives to drop weight.
The study results appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
“Weight preoccupation in pre-pubertal girls is a concern because dieting at this age can impact growth and may increase risk for fatigue, irritability and low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders,” said Nancy Sherwood, the study’s lead author.
The girls expressed dissatisfaction with their stomachs and thighs and more than 25 percent agreed that “pictures of thin girls and women make me wish I were thin.”
Didn't Want To Look Like Models, Though
But 60 percent said they did not want to look like models in magazines. The girls in the study were more likely to read magazines that promoted a healthy body image than those that amplify cultural examples of thinness, the researchers found.
Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, clinical director of adolescent psychology at Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, Tenn., said previous studies have shown that 40 percent to 45 percent of 10-year-olds feel overweight and that one third have dieted.
That Girl Scouts may have a healthier body image than other girls — although they dieted as much as a typical 10-year-old — is something researchers attribute to the potential benefit of programs like the Girl Scouts.
Research is needed on why early dieting occurs and how socioeconomic ideals become internalized, Sherwood said.
“These findings suggest early adolescence may be a good time to intervene with girls for eating disorder prevention and health promotion,” Sherwood said. “Prevention programs should help girls critically evaluate media messages.”
Scott Terranella of ABCNEWS and Robin Eisner from ABCNEWS.com contributed to this report.