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Study Links Girls' Body Size to Sexual Behavior

November 3, 2009

Sexually active high school girls who were either overweight or who believed they were, as well as girls who were underweight, tended to use condoms less than girls of normal weight in a new study. Race and ethnicity played a role in the relationships between body and sexual behavior, though how exactly is not clear, according to lead author Dr. Aletha Akers of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and colleagues.

Among 7,193 high school girls who completed the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, half reported having had sex. Caucasian girls who believed they were underweight, accurately or not, were more likely to be sexually experienced and to have had four or more sex partners. Overweight Caucasian girls were less likely to use condoms. Among African-American girls, those who were underweight were less likely to use condoms, while overweight girls were likelier to report four or more sex partners.

Regardless of weight or perception, Latina high school students were more likely to report sexual risks, including pre-teen sex and four or more sex partners. However, the sample size was small and the girls came from diverse nations and cultures, so researchers cautioned against drawing any broad conclusions.

Thin African-American girls and overweight Caucasian girls may feel less desirable in terms of cultural norms of attractiveness, and thus might be less willing to use condoms or capable of negotiating their use, Akers hypothesized.

"The goal is to point out that race is an important context of how girls think about their body image, and those variations influence how they negotiate sexual behavior," Akers said. She said she will ask for National Institutes of Health funding for a follow-up study.

The full report, "Exploring the Relationship Among Weight, Race and Sexual Behaviors Among Girls," was published in Pediatrics (2009:124(5):e913-e920).

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Excerpted from:
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
10.31.09; David Templeton

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