This study investigated the correlation between loneliness and the level of concern over weight among adolescent females. It was hypothesized that the degree of loneliness would be positively correlated with the level of concern. Twenty-eight participants between the ages of 14 and 18 were selected using a convenience sample from extracurricular youth programs in rural Indiana. The UCLA Revised Loneliness Scale measured loneliness and the Concern Over Weight and Dieting Scale measured the adolescents’ level of concern over their weight. A Pearson r correlation coefficient was used to analyze the data. No significant correlation was found between the level of loneliness and concern over weight. Certain study limitations provide insight for the design of future research on this population.
The Relationship Between Loneliness and Concern Over Weight in Adolescent Girls
Adolescence is a critical developmental stage for girls. This can be observed through the widespread self-reported loneliness in youth under the age of 16 (Marcoen & Brumagne, 1985). Also, teenagers tend to be highly preoccupied with image and extremely concerned over their levels of social acceptance. This contributes to girls being particularly vulnerable to a negative body image and harmful dieting during adolescence (Gerner & Wilson, 2005).
Loneliness is a multidimensional experience universal to all humans and is affected by personality, history, and background variables (Rokack, Orzeck, Moya, & Exposito, 2002). American culture has certainly shaped the predominant views on loneliness. Americans are part of an individualistic culture and this type of society easily encourages weak friendships that can enhance feelings of loneliness (Malikiosi-Loizos & Anderson, 1999). Americans also tend to blame internal attributes for reasons of loneliness (Rokack, Orzeck, Moya, & Exposito, 2002). This may occur because individual achievement is stressed. The North American culture also emphasizes a need to appear connected and romantically desirable (Rokach, Bacanli, & Ramberan, 2000). Culture has a primary influence on individuals that produces unwanted feelings such as loneliness.
Feelings of loneliness are associated with depressive symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema & Ahrens, 2002). According to Franko et al. (2005) these feelings are especially detrimental to adolescent girls as they are more prone to suffer in young adulthood because of them. This is demonstrated through body dissatisfaction and eating concerns that often arise in girls who are lonely. It is very likely that these characteristics in a young girl’s mindset lead to depression.
Another growing concern among adolescent girls is an increased preoccupation and concern over weight-related issues. Culture also seems to be a main cause for these issues among teenagers in the United States. Dieting has become more frequent among adolescents; it has become the normative eating pattern for women in the Western world. The dominant culture has reinforced (through the media especially) that the ideal body shape is thin. As the incidence of obesity among all ages has increased recently, concerns over weight and eating patterns have become even more prevalent. Many girls are trying to combat their struggles with weight by practicing unhealthy eating and dieting patterns (Reid, Hammersley, & Rance, 2005).
Wardle and Watters (2004) examined the effect that being exposed to an older teenage culture can have on the weight concerns of middle school and high school aged girls. The results suggest that attending a school with older girls in the environment encourages younger girls to have a thinner ideal body shape, feel more overweight, be more likely to have dieted, and have a lower self-esteem. Friendships at this stage in life can also have a dramatic impact on girls. Friendship variables, such as peer acceptance, perceived social support, and friendship intimacy significantly contribute to the prediction of body image concern, body dissatisfaction, and restrained eating (Gerner & Wilson, 2005).
The growing preoccupation with weight and eating patterns among adolescent girls has many negative consequences. Teens with a thinner ideal tend to feel more overweight and have a lower self-esteem. Ross and Wade (2004) explored these issues with young women and found that those with high amounts of weight and body image concern struggled with self-esteem, dietary restraint, and uncontrolled eating. Dieting and high levels of concern over body weight and image increase the likelihood of developing eating disorders (Tanofsky-Kraff, Faden, Yanovski, Wilfley, & Yanovski, 2005). Due to the current relevance many studies have examined the effect that levels of concern over weight has among adolescents. However, minimal research exists that explores the relationship between loneliness and concern over weight.
Brennan (2003) examined the relationship between the two variables by concentrating on Australian obese adolescents and young adults. Those who were significantly underweight or overweight reported higher levels of anxiety and psychological struggles. Another study examined adolescents’ relationships and disturbed body images. The study used extensive interviews and a review of medical records. A negative correlation was found between negative self image and strong relationships in adolescents (Reinhold, 2003).
Hubert, Coker, and Birtchnell (1986) reported that those dealing with eating disorders have various negative social spheres of relationships. The majority of those being tested showed poor relations with their parents, and almost half of their parents had conflict in their own marital relations. There were also findings of the lack of a positive self-image and good peer group relations. Stewart (2004) studied patients with eating disorders who had relapsed and found that loneliness and isolation were large contributors to their circumstances. The study speculated that those struggling with eating disorders would separate from their peers because they perceived themselves differently.
The present study examined the relationship between loneliness and concern over weight among adolescent females. As both of these variables have become more prevalent in society, it is significant to consider their connection. This study hypothesizes that a positive relationship exists between loneliness and concern over weight in adolescent girls.
Twenty-eight students from two Campus Life programs and one youth group in rural Indiana participated in this study. Campus Life is an after-school program for high school students to attend on Monday nights, which encourages students to engage with one another and discuss topics relevant to them. Participants were selected using convenience sampling. Only those who returned their parental consent forms were allowed to participate. Participants included adolescent girls whose ages ranged from 14 to 18. The mean age of the sample was 16.82.
The Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale (RULS), created by Russell, Peplau, and Cutrona (as cited in Corcoran & Fischer, 1987), is a 20-item scale used to measure loneliness. The RULS has outstanding internal consistency with an alpha of .94. There is no test-re-test data available. Concurrent validity correlating this measure with a number of mood and personality measures was significant, particularly with a self-labeling loneliness index. People who scored high on the RULS reported more limited social activities and relationships and reported more emotions that are theoretically linked to loneliness (Corcoran & Fischer, 1987).
Loneliness was defined as a lack of emotional or social connection with others (Hawkley, Browne, & Cacioppo, 2005). The RULS posed questions to measure emotional and social loneliness. An example of a question that measured emotional loneliness is “There are people I feel close to.” An example of a question that measured social loneliness is “There is no one I can turn to.” Each of the 20 questions was answered on a Likert scale of 1-4. The higher the final score, the lonelier the participant was assumed to be (Corcoran & Fischer, 1987).
The Concern Over Weight and Dieting Scale (COWD), created by Kagan and Squires (as cited in Corcoran & Fischer, 1987), is a 14-item measure that was used to assess the levels of preoccupation and concern over weight among high school females. The reliability coefficient was .88. There has been no reported evidence of retest reliability. Known-group validity was found from scores of subjects being categorized as normal eaters, borderline eaters, and disordered eaters. Evidence of concurrent validity was found with self-discipline and rebelliousness (Corcoran & Fischer, 1987).
Having a concern about weight and dieting was defined as regular avoidance of food, guilt over eating, and attempts at weight loss. High levels of concern are often symptoms of eating disorders. The COWD Scale measures each of these sub-scales. A sample of the questions that measure the avoidance of food is “How often do you skip one meal so you can lose weight?” One question used to measure intensity of guilt after eating is “How often do you feel guilty after eating?” A question that measures the amount of attempts at weight loss is “How many times have you tried diet medicine?” Each of the questions includes five categorical responses. The responses were then converted to numeric values. The higher scores indicated greater concern over one’s weight and diet (Corcoran & Fischer, 1987).
The leaders of the Campus Life and youth group programs granted permission to allow their members to participate in this study. At the beginning of the first meeting, the female participants were separated from the male students and introduced to the researchers. The study was briefly explained and participants received a parental consent form to be returned anytime in the following week, which would make them eligible for a raffle prize and further participation in this study.
One week later, the participants were again directed into a separate room. Consent forms were collected from each participant. Females without parental consent were directed to return to the meeting. Participants were given a raffle ticket for a prize worth $15 that was awarded at the end of the study. Directions regarding the two surveys were explained. Participants were asked to complete each survey on their own, honestly and responsibly to the best of their ability. Afterward, the completed surveys were placed face down into a box and the students returned to their seats until everyone finished the surveys. A raffle ticket was chosen and one participant received a prize and appreciation was given to the group for contributing to this study. A contact form, including the information about the researchers and the program leaders, was distributed to the participants. It informed those who became aware of personal issues surrounding relational dynamics or body image through participation in this study of where they could receive support. The data were then collected, organized, and readied for analysis.
A Pearson r correlation coefficient was used to analyze the data. An alpha level of .05 and 26 degrees of freedom was used. Scores from the COWD Scale were compared to the scores from the RULS. The r obtained was 0.299. When the obtained r was compared to the critical r value (.374), the null hypothesis was retained. No significant correlation was found between an adolescent female’s level of loneliness and her concern over weight. The individual scores of loneliness and concern over weight are displayed in Figure 1. The participants’ mean COWD score was 35.05 with a standard deviation of 8.41. The participants’ mean RULS score was 35.07 with a standard deviation of 8.72.
Figure 1 Scatterplot of Loneliness and Concern Over Weight
This study hypothesized that a positive correlation would exist between loneliness and concern over weight in adolescent girls. Because no significant correlation was found, the results did not support this hypothesis. Although these findings cannot be generalized to the entire population, this research does have implications for adolescent females along with their parents and other adults who are involved in their lives.
The present study suggests that the adolescent females in the sample may not have extreme levels of loneliness or concern over weight because of their involvement in Christian-based activities. Although Malikiosi-Loizos & Anderson (1999) had found a significant relationship between the individualistic culture of Americans and weak friendships and increased feelings of loneliness, this study may suggest that religion might have had an influence. This could imply that those with religious backgrounds are less susceptible to dealing with these issues. This could also suggest that Christians (or at least families of educated Christians) are addressing these issues and successfully supporting their youth with these struggles. This should encourage those who work and interact with adolescent females to be proactive when dealing with these variables.
Another implication of this study is that adolescents may not feel comfortable revealing their concerns over these variables in a church setting, causing them to hide their concerns over weight or issues with loneliness. If this is the case, churches may need to become more welcoming and accepting of adolescents and their struggles. Leaders of activities such as Campus Life and youth groups need to encourage females to honestly explore potential issues in their lives and the leaders should be supportive of adolescents during this time.
Limited research is available that explores the relationship between loneliness and concern over weight. However, Marcoen and Brumagne (1985) found that self reported loneliness is extremely widespread among adolescents under the age of 16. The present study was composed of mostly 17 and 18 year olds (68%), which could suggest that adolescents learn how to deal with these pressures more adequately as they mature. Even though the present hypothesis did not support this finding due to the lack of extreme scores with concern over weight, Stewart (2004) discovered that adolescent patients with eating disorders experienced higher levels of isolation and separation from their peers.
Another factor that may have influenced the results is that the study dealt with sensitive issues. As Hubert, Coker, and Birtchnell (1986) found, adolescent females tend to be cautious about admitting struggles with their weight or having issues with loneliness. Also, the responses to the surveys were answers to closed-ended questions, which could have encouraged participants to answer with a response set or report what they considered to be socially acceptable answers. Both of these factors could have contributed to the lack of extreme scores among the participants.
This research may imply that loneliness is not strongly correlated with levels of concern over weight. The two variables may have similar side effects but may not necessarily be related. They could be independent of one another, suggesting that the issues may need to be addressed independently.
A more significant correlation may have been found between loneliness and concern over weight with the exclusion of certain limitations. The small sample size of 28 participants may have made it more difficult to find a statistically significant relationship if one was present between the two variables. Also, the participants were selected by convenience sampling, contributing to the sample not being representative.
Because the participants completed the study in an informal setting during Campus Life and youth group meetings, this could have minimized the value of the research. This study may not have been viewed as having a high level of importance to the adolescents taking the surveys. The participants completed the surveys while they were seated near their peers, which may have also influenced their answers. All of the participants completed the surveys within approximately five minutes. The quick responses may have indicated that the participants did not complete the surveys in a thorough and considered manner.
Further research is needed since it is unclear whether a significant relationship does exist between loneliness and concern over weight among adolescent females. When conducting future research, it may be beneficial to obtain a random sample from public high schools rather than from a particular subgroup. This would provide a more representative sample from the general population of adolescent females. In order to improve validity, a study could be conducted in a more formal setting. This could include a pilot study that asks open-ended questions in order to attempt to gain more thorough and honest responses. Although a significant correlation was not found, the present study reveals the shortcomings and limitations that need to be addressed in future studies.
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Parental Consent Form
I have been asked to be a participant in a research project investigating relational dynamics and body image.
This project is under the direction of Danielle Ronges, Jenna Rumple, and Beth Warblow, undergraduate students at Huntington University and is a part of a course requirement in the psychology major that is taught by Wayne Priest, Ph.D.
I understand that there are no known risks associated with participating in this project and that I will be asked to complete two questionnaires during the next youth group meeting on March 25, 2007.
I understand that information gathered from me during this project will not be reported to anyone outside the project team in any manner that might personally identify me. The results will remain confidential and the answers will not be identified with any individual participant. A report of combined and generalized results involving multiple participants will be prepared and may be presented in a scholarly public forum. Additionally, you are entitled to be informed as to the results of this study upon its completion and may contact one of us by phone or email if you are interested in this.
My signature indicates that I understand and voluntarily agree to allow my child to participate according to the conditions of participation described above and that she may withdraw from the study at any time.
|Student’s Name (Printed)
Danielle Ronges (260) 433-XXXX danielleronges AT huntington.edu
Jenna Rumple (260) 224-XXXX jennarumple AT huntington.edu
Beth Warblow (616) 821-XXXX bethanywarblow AT huntington.edu
Thank you for participating in our study! If this research project has raised any issues for you or if you have any questions regarding the study, please feel free to contact your leader or any of the students listed below from Huntington University.
Leader: XXX XXX-XXXX
Danielle Ronges: (260) 433-XXXX
Jenna Rumple: (260) 224-XXXX
Beth Warblow: (616) 821-XXXX