Weight Control Behaviors Among Croatian University Students

Weight Control Behaviors Among Croatian University Students



Results of studies that have been provided on the university student population have determined a great presence of unhealthy living habits. The aim of this study is to determine the presence of certain risk behaviours in weight control in the university student population and to investigate the differences regarding gender and age. The sample includes male students (219) and female students (585) of the University of Zagreb, between 19 and 27 years of age. We have used shortened, anonymous 16 - items questionnaire related to the problems of obesity in early life, attitude towards keeping a diet, possible ways of maintaining a desirable body weight and body shape, and overeating at one meal. The results have been analyzed by the analysis of proportions and logistic regression analyses. The results indicate the presence of multiple compensatory behaviours in maintaining body weight, such as: skipping meals, after meal vomiting, laxative use, and starvation. The results showed increasing incidence of taking large quantities of food at one meal, especially in female students. There was a statistically significant difference by gender. The authors have concluded that this problem should be given a more scientific attention in order to obtain a comprehensive view into the problem and on the basis of scientific knowledge suggested educational and preventive programs.

Key words: eating behaviour, weight control, university student, health, diet


We can consider eating disorders as health risks and dangerous behavior disorders. They are the result of action of numbers of factors such as: emotional disorders, personality disorders, family pressures, and possible genetic and biological predisposition, socio-cultural environment in which there is an abundance of food and obsession with the idea of thinness (Curkovic, 2010). Various methods of weight loss are the most used in the adolescent and young adulthood population. Besides the moderate methods (reduced calorie intake, increased physical activity) the university student population also shows the restrictive methods (taking diet pills, starvation, deliberate vomiting after meals, etc.), that can lead young people to the risk of developing pathological eating disorders (Abebe et al. 2012, Stice et al. 2013, Jones et al. 2014).

In terms of socio-cultural aspects, research shows that from 8.5% to 35% of the female student population shows symptoms of the disorder and they fall to the risk of developing some form of eating disorder. Many factors influence the development of malnutrition and leads to two most widespread clinical forms such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

One of the factors that has a significant influence on the occurrence of risks is dissatisfaction appearance is called the “the cult of thinness” in the Western civilization (Argyrides and Keli, 2015). In addition, a number of called compensatory behaviors such as: taking laxatives, deliberate vomiting, and excessive exercise with the primary intention of changing the shape of the body and /or weight loss are often in focus of researching eating disorders. Research shows that this kind of behavior is consistently associated with symptoms of psychopathology and development of disorders (Schaumberg et al. 2014). According to Eenie et. al. (2013) eating disorders and body dissatisfaction is significantly widespread in the student population, especially among female students.

The aim of this study is to determine the presence of certain risk behaviors in weight control of the student population in Croatia and to investigate whether there is a statistically significant difference regarding gender and age.


The study was conducted on 804 students (585 female and 219 male) coming from all regions in Croatia and who are studying at the University of Zagreb, between 18 and 27 years of age.

For the purposes of this study we have used a shortened version of 16 – items questionnaire (Ćurković, 2010) related to the problems of being overweight during childhood and the relationship with diet, ways to maintain a desirable body weight and body shape and overeating at one meal. Analysis of the results were obtained with analysis of the proportions and multivariate data processing methods.


The participants in this study were mostly undergraduate students (85.6%) and 14.4% of the participants were graduate students. According to age, most students at the age of twenty (25.9%), followed by those of the age of nineteen (24.1%) and twenty-one (23.7%).

Analysis of indicators related to the maintenance of body weight and the development of possible risks shows that 20.5% of students had difficulties in one period of their childhood, and that 17.9% still have problems with body mass.

Table 1 Problems with body mass during adulthood

Have you had excess weight in earlier years?

1. / 2. / 3. / 4. / 5.
Never / Untill 9 year old / Between
10. i 13. / Between
14. i 18. / I still have
61,5% / 4,4% / 7,8% / 8,3% / 17,9%

How would you describe your relationship with your diet?

1. / 2. / 3. / 4. / 5.
I never been on
a diet / Earlier I was trying but not now / Occasionally I'm on a diet / I am often on a diet / Very often I was on a strict diet
63,6% / 14,5% / 18,5% / 3,0% / 0,3%

Although the majority of students (63.6%) responded that they had never practiced a diet, it is evident that those who are doing it, present unhealthy maintenance of body weight (starve themselves 7.8%; skipping meals 12%; deliberately vomit after meals 3.3%, taking laxatives or teas for cleaning 3.0%, etc.) (Table 2).

Table 2 Way of to maintain weight

If you have been ever before, or you are now on a diet, your body weight maintain as follows: (Please mark each true statement) / %
I use a diet recommended by doctor / 3,4%
I do not eat bread / 19,4%
I do not eat dinner / 15,7%
I avoid late dinner / 31,1%
I count calories / 7,2%
I do not mix carbohydrates and proteins / 9,2%
I do not eat – I am starving / 7,8%
I eat more vegetables and fruit / 30,2%
Deliberately throwing up after meals / 3,3%
I'm careful with how much I eat at every meal / 20,2%
Skipping meals / 12,0%
I eat normally and moderately deal with sports activities / 24,2%
I take laxatives or teas for detoxification / 3,0%

According to the results shown in Table 3, half of the students, in this study, have occasionally had the need to enter large amounts of food in one meal. The large amounts of food in one meal have had often and very often been anwsered by 8.3% of students.

Table 3: Do you have "attacks" of taking large amounts of food (binge eating) in one portion and the need to overeat?

1. / 2. / 3. / 4.
never / occasionally / often / very often
42,0 / 49,5 / 7,1 / 1,3

Analysis of the results of the question: How to maintain body weight? showed that the highest percentage of female students avoids dinner (23.5%) and takes more fruits and vegetables (22.65%) in their diet. Male students report that they exercise (8.12%) and avoid dinner and take more fruits and vegetables (7.57%). It is interesting that a small number of male students (0.91%) and female students (2.48%) talks with the doctor how to maintain their body weight.

Part of the studied population (particularly female students) have used restrictive measures to maintain body weight such as: skip meals (9.02%), vomiting after meal (2.73%) and taking laxatives and other cleaning products (2.24%). In addition to the results of the ways to maintain body weight, the main concern are the student needs to enter large amounts of food at one meal or overeating (Table 4) which at times appears in nearly 32.7% male and 25.58% female students.

Table 4: Do you need to enter large amounts of food in one meal?

„BINGE EATING“ / Male / 19,56 / 21,38 / 3,21 / 0,97
Female / 22,47 / 28,16 / 3,88 / 0,66

For the variable related to the ways to maintain body weight according to the gender the results of logistic regression analysis showed that the tested model is statistically significant (χ2 (8, N = 804) = 37.321, p <0.01; -2LL = 965.679). The contribution of individual predictors can be seen in Table 5.

Table 5: Analysis of the link between gender differences and maintaining body weight estimated by logistic regression analysis

B / St. Err.. / Wald / df / p / OR
Model 1a / I use a diet recommended by doctor / ,019 / ,327 / ,004 / 1 / ,953 / 1,020
I do not eat dinner / -,564 / ,186 / 9,200 / 1 / ,002 / ,569
I count calories / -,272 / ,256 / 1,128 / 1 / ,288 / ,762
I do not mix carbohydrates and proteins / -,837 / ,235 / 12,733 / 1 / ,000 / ,433
I am starving / ,306 / ,250 / 1,494 / 1 / ,222 / 1,358
Deliberately throwing up after meals / -,603 / ,389 / 2,404 / 1 / ,121 / ,547
Skipping meals / -,273 / ,217 / 1,587 / 1 / ,208 / ,761
I take laxatives / -,020 / ,361 / ,003 / 1 / ,955 / ,980
Constant / 1,856 / ,657 / 7,987 / 1 / ,005 / 6,401
a. Predictors: I use a diet recommended by doctor, I do not eat dinner, I count calories, I do not mix carbohydrates and proteins, I am starving, Deliberately throwing up after meals, Skipping meals I take laxatives.

Correlations between predictors and criteria showed that female students use methods of maintaining weight more than male students. According to the β weights, significantly more female students take into the account not mixing carbohydrates and proteins (B = 837, Wald = 12.733, SD = 433, p <0.01). A greater number of female students than male students does not eat dinner (B = 564, Wald = 9.200, OR = 569, p <0.01). Other variables have statistically significant independent contribution to the creation of differences in methods of maintaining body weight observed by gender.

The study does not obtain statistically significant relationship between predictor age expressed in years of life and ways of maintaining body weight.


The results of this study are consistent with the previous study results that have been provided on the university student population. All studies have determined the increasing number of risky behaviors that students obtain with the aim to maintain body weight (Arrigo et al. 2014; Schaumberg et al. 2014).

In this study, the authors have found that 25.9% of the sample had a problem with being overweight when they were in a period of growing up and 18% of them are still there. Some compensatory behaviors that are most frequent in this sample with the purpose to maintain the body weight are the following: starvation (7.8%), skipping meals (12%), intentional vomiting (3.3%) and taking laxatives and other preparations for cleaning the body (3%). The studies have shown the link between the presence of more compensatory behaviors in one person (taking laxatives, subjective bulimia episodes of binge eating, vomiting after meals etc.), this behavior puts the person in a high risk group for the development of disturbances in eating and psychological dysfunction (Abebe et al. 2012 ). The students of the University of Zagreb who have participated in this study tend to take a large amount of food at one meal (binge eating) while almost half of them occasionally resort to this type of feeding. The female students are in higher risk than male students because they are experimenting with different compensatory behaviors in an attempt to achieve ideal body weight. Research suggests that the deliberate vomiting has connected to the development of serious disturbances in eating (Schaumberg et al. 2014).

In conclusion, we can say that we have found more compensatory behaviors that lead students to the risk of developing disorders in feeding. The female students are much more vulnerable in comparison to their male colleagues. It is necessary to carry out several different studies that include socio-cultural, family and individual factors that may be connected to the development of disorders in the nutrition of student population and to be based on scientific knowledge that it is possible to create a preventive guidance to solve the problem.


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