WEIGHING IN ON THE ISSUE: A LONGITUDINAL ANALYSIS OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND CONTEXTUAL FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE THE DEVELOPMENTAL TRAJECTORIES OF EATING DISORDERS AMONG ADOLESCENTS.
Abstract: Eating disorders, and variants of these disorders (e.g., body
dissatisfaction, weight control behaviors), represent pressing and prevalent health
problems that affect American adolescents with potentially chronic consequences (Commission
on Adolescent Eating Disorders, 2005). Although the World Health Organization (2003)
designated these issues as a global priority area for youth ... read moremental health, reaching a
complete understanding of the developmental processes that increase and maintain risk and
protection is complicated by several unique theoretical and empirical challenges. In order
to address these conceptually and empirically interrelated problems, the current study
integrated existing theoretical frameworks derived from the eating disorder literature with
relevant perspectives from the adolescent development field, and elaborated a systems-based
theoretical framework and methodology for the study of associations among adolescents'
experiences pertinent to eating pathology and body dissatisfaction, their patterns of
sports participation, and the implications of these associations for their positive and
problematic development. Sports participation was examined as the primary contextual factor
because of its central role in affecting adolescent development. Using data from Grades 9
to 11 of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development (PYD), this research first identified
qualitatively distinct trajectories of adolescents' eating pathology and body
dissatisfaction using group-based modeling, and then used multinomial logistic regression
analyses to describe the individual and contextual correlates of these pathways. Next,
multiple regression analyses were used to examine whether trajectories of eating pathology
and body dissatisfaction related to youth positive and problematic development, such as PYD
and depression. The final phase of this study investigated whether sports participation
moderated associations between specific trajectories of eating pathology and body
dissatisfaction and adolescents' positive or problematic development. Results from the
group-based modeling and multinomial logistic analyses supported the presence of
qualitatively distinct trajectories of eating pathology and body dissatisfaction that
differed with respect to patterns of constancy and change across middle adolescence. In
addition, several physical, psychological, and demographic factors were associated with
adolescents' membership in specific trajectory groups. In general, the results suggested
that boys, adolescents with perceptions of normal weight, and adolescents with higher
levels of self-worth, were more likely to be in favorable trajectories of eating pathology
and body dissatisfaction. Actual weight (BMI-z) at Grade 9 was related to membership in
body dissatisfaction trajectories but not to membership in eating pathology trajectories.
Maternal education and duration of sports participation were not associated with membership
in any of the eating pathology and body dissatisfaction trajectories. Findings from the
multiple regression analyses demonstrated that diverse eating pathology and body
dissatisfaction trajectories were significantly associated with youth positive and
problematic functioning, after accounting for specific demographic, physical, and
psychological factors. In general, eating pathology and body dissatisfaction trajectories
were associated more with adolescents' depression scores than with adolescents' PYD scores.
In addition, results suggested that unique patterns of associations between trajectory
group membership and psychosocial functioning existed for female and male adolescents.
Among girls, experiencing unhealthy or problematic eating- and weight-related trajectories
were not only significantly associated with lower levels of PYD, but were also associated
with higher levels of depressive symptoms as well. Among males, membership in problematic
eating pathology trajectories was associated with more depressive symptoms, although
membership in any of the eating- and weight-related trajectories was unrelated with males'
positive adjustment. Membership in either favorable or unfavorable eating- and
weight-related trajectories was not associated with males' positive adjustment. Finally,
results of multiple regression analyses indicated that sports participation moderated (a)
relations between adolescents' experiences in problematic eating- and weight-related
trajectories, and (b) their self-reported depressive symptoms. Specifically, for adolescent
boys and girls in more problematic trajectories of eating pathology and body
dissatisfaction, more continuous sports participation was related to lower levels of
depression. However, for adolescents who experienced pathways characterized by lower
(although still chronic) levels of eating pathology and body dissatisfaction, more years of
sports participation were associated with increased depressive symptoms. These results
suggest that the distinct and diverse pathways of eating pathology and body dissatisfaction
that exist across middle adolescence have important implications for the positive and
problematic development of our youth. In addition, the findings underscore the need to
evaluate the interindividual differences that exist in regard to how sports participation
may positively or negatively relate to developmental outcomes.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of Child Development.
Advisor: Richard Lerner.
Committee: Tama Leventhal, Jacqueline Lerner, and Anne Becker.
Keywords: Developmental Psychology, Psychology, and Mental Health.read less