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Dieting status influences associations between dietary patterns and body composition in adolescents: a cross-sectional study

Anna S Howe1, Katherine E Black1, Jyh Eiin Wong12, Winsome R Parnell1 and Paula ML Skidmore1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

2 School of Healthcare Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 50300, Malaysia

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Citation and License

Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:51  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-51

Published: 24 April 2013



Associations between food choice and body composition in previous studies of adolescents have been inconsistent. This may be due to the body composition measures used, or these associations may be affected by the dieting status of adolescents. The objective of this study was to investigate the association between dietary patterns and body composition in adolescents, and determine if these associations are moderated by dieting status.


Information on food consumption and current dieting status was collected, using a web-based survey, in 681 adolescents (mean age 15.8 (SD 0.9) years) from schools in Otago, New Zealand. Non-dieters were defined as those reporting not being on a diet as they were “happy with their weight”. Principal components analysis (PCA) was used to determine dietary patterns. Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), waist-to-height ratio (WHtR), fat mass index (FMI), and fat-free mass index (FFMI) were examined as outcomes. Generalized estimating equations were used to examine associations between dietary patterns and body composition.


PCA produced three dietary patterns: ‘Treat Foods’, ‘Fruits and Vegetables’, and ‘Basic Foods’. A standard deviation increase in ‘Basic Foods’ was associated with a 3.58% decrease in FMI (95%CI −6.14, -0.94) in the total sample. When separate sex analysis was undertaken significant negative associations were found in boys only, between the ‘Basic Food’ score and WC, WHtR, FMI, and FFMI, while the ‘Fruits and Vegetables’ pattern was negatively associated with FMI. Associations between ‘Treat Foods’ and BMI, WC, and WHtR in non-dieters were positive, while these associations were negative for all other participants.


Significant associations were found between dietary patterns and indices of both central and total adiposity, but not BMI. Therefore using only BMI measures may not be useful in this age group. Since our results were significant for boys and not girls, nutrition messages designed to prevent obesity may be particularly important for adolescent boys. As an interaction between dieting status and ‘Treat Foods’ existed, future studies should also explore the role of dieting when investigating food choice and body composition.

Dietary patterns; Body composition; Dieting status; Adolescents; New Zealand