Open Access Research article

The role of weight status, gender and self-esteem in following a diet among middle-school children in Sicily (Italy)

Margherita Ferrante2, Maria Fiore2*, Gina E Sciacca2, Luca Leon1, Salvatore Sciacca2, Marine Castaing2 and Gianbattista Modonutti1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Sciences and Public Health, Research Group on Health (GRES), Trieste University, Italy

2 Department "G.F. Ingrassia", Sector of Hygiene and Public Health, Catania University, Italy

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:241  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-241

Published: 11 May 2010



Weight-related issues such as obesity, dieting and eating disorders in adolescents are major public health problems. Moreover, undertaking a diet tends to be common among school children and the reasons for doing so are not always related to weight status. The objectives of the study were to evaluate the role of body mass index (BMI), gender and self-esteem in the adoption of a diet in middle-school Sicilian children.


The survey included middle-school children in some Sicilian provinces. Weight status was determined by sex-specific body mass index for age according to the international BMI cut-off proposed by Cole. Classic chi-square test and linear trend chi-square were used to compare percentages. Univariate and multivariate logistic regressions were computed to study the risk of dieting according to weight status (with the underweight group as the reference group), gender, self-esteem adjusted for province. Adjusted odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) along with associated p-values were furnished.


The survey showed that 45.2% of the children were of average-weight, 6.6% were underweight, 12.6% were overweight and 2.9% were clinically obese. The missing data were up to 32.8%. Regarding dieting, 26.3% of the children stated that they had been on a diet during the last three months, 56.4% claimed they had not, and 17.2% did not answer. Age was not associated with dieting (p = 0.76). More girls than boys had undertaken a diet (31.4% versus 21.4%, p < 0.0001). Self-esteem had an influence on the choice of following a diet; in fact, 40.8%, 28.5% and 20.9% of the children with negative, normal and positive self-esteem were following a diet (trend p < 0.0001). The multivariate analysis showed that self-esteem seemed to influence more girls than boys (p = 0.06), and stratified analysis by gender indicated that it seemed more influent in girls (p = 0.0008) than in boys (p = 0.01).


In addition to the relation between dieting and BMI, our results highlight the link between dieting, gender and self-esteem. We underline the importance of interventions within the context of health education in order to improve global self-esteem and to encourage proper eating habits to prevent weight-related health problems.