Food Attitudes Affect Obesity Risk in Middle-Aged Women

A small study of middle-aged women finds that “guilt-ridden dieters,” impulsive eaters and those too busy to focus on food are the most likely to show signs of obesity.

Half of women fit into two other categories, the study says, and were found to be the least likely to be leaning toward fat. Both types of women in those groups are concerned about nutrition and like to eat healthy.

“The basic attitude that people have about food is related to the likelihood that they’re at risk for obesity and weight gain,” said researcher Dennis Degeneffe, a study co-author.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the journal Health Education & Behavior, placed 200 women into five groups based on their attitudes about food. The women had an average age of 46, were well-educated (two-thirds had a four-year degree or higher) and 86 percent were white.

The researchers then compared the groups of women by measurements such as percentage of body fat, waist size and body mass index (BMI).

Those deemed to be “concerned about nutrition” (determined to eat well) and “creative cooks” (focused on food for their families) scored the lowest in the weight categories. “Impulsive eaters” and “guilt-ridden dieters” scored the highest, with “busy cooking avoiders” in the middle.

“Women in the middle group tend to lead busy lifestyles and are often preoccupied with other activities and responsibilities, with eating generally taking a back seat,” said Degeneffe, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Food Industry Center.

Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian and author in New York City, said the categories defined in the study “truly parallel what I see with my clients and women I talk to regarding how food and nutrition fit into their lives.”

“I have found that women who have a big responsibility to take care of their families appear to do less well at taking care of themselves, food-wise,” she said. In some cases, she said, food helps them to feel rewarded and cope with their lives.

She urges them to focus on their own needs “because taking better care of themselves will help them have the physical and emotional wellness they need to continue taking care of their families.”

Treating these kinds of women can be tough, said Lona Sandon, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Health and nutrition may be important to them, but convenience often wins,” she said. “It is very challenging to come up with solutions to help these women lose weight if they are not willing or able to give up something else in their life.”