CHAPEL HILL - Concerns about how adolescent girls react to normal weight gains prompted University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers to look at the real-life implications of body fat for dating and sexual activity.
The scientists did it by going straight to the sources.
Virtually all girls asked saw physical attractiveness as important, and four out of five reported that having a boyfriend was either somewhat or very important, according to Dr. Carolyn Halpern, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the UNC-CH School of Public Health.
Differences in body fat had significant implications for dating, an activity most girls value. "For white girls in general and for black girls of higher economic status, more body fat was strongly associated with not dating," Halpern said. "This was true even among non-obese girls."
Not only was more fat a disadvantage for getting dates, but below average fat was a significant advantage, the researchers found, she said. A girl of average height and weight, who is 5 feet and 3 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds, is only half as likely to date as a girl of the same height and physical maturity who weighs a below-average 110 pounds. "One reason adolescent girls are concerned about their weight is that they believe that being slim increases their chances of dating. Our data indicate they are right."
As expected, the more a subject dated, the more likely she was to become sexually active. After controlling for the amount of dating, however, weight seemed to have little effect on whether girls had sex.
A report on the research will appear in the May issue of the journal
Developmental Psychology. Besides Halpern, authors are Drs. J. Richard Udry and
Chirayath Suchindran, Kenan professor of maternal and child health and sociology
and professor of biostatistics, respectively, both at UNC-CH, and Dr. Benjamin
Campbell of Boston University.
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill