Master of Arts (MA)
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Objective: Extant data indicate that girls who mature earlier than their peers are at increased risk for disordered eating symptoms. Nonetheless, whether early pubertal timing exerts differential effects across key disordered eating symptoms (e.g., body weight/shape concerns vs. binge eating) and whether pubertal timing effects are present after the completion of puberty (i.e., in adulthood) remains relatively unclear. Additionally, leading theories posit that pubertal increases in adiposity and psychosocial factors (e.g., perceived pressures for thinness) likely underlie the predictive effects of earlier maturation on disordered eating risk, yet few studies have empirically tested this possibility. The current study aimed to address these gaps by examining: 1) associations between pubertal timing and several disordered eating symptoms in young adult women, and 2) testing whether such associations are mediated by leading physical and psychosocial factors.
Method: Participants included female college students from a large Southwestern university (N = 358). Age at onset of menses was used as the indicator of pubertal timing. Disordered eating symptoms were assessed with the Eating Pathology Symptoms Inventory (EPSI), Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q), General Food Cravings Questionnaire – Trait Version (GFCQ-T), and Loss of Control Over Eating Scale (LOCES). Perceived pressures for thinness and internalization of the thin ideal body were assessed with the Sociocultural Attitudes Toward Appearance Questionnaire (SATAQ-4), and history of weight-based teasing was assessed with the Perceptions of Teasing Scale (POTS-5). Body Mass Index (BMI) was used as a marker of adiposity and was calculated from height and weight measurements.
Results: Earlier pubertal timing was associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction and dysregulated eating symptoms (e.g., binge eating, loss of control over eating), but not dietary restraint, behavioral restricting, excessive exercise, or muscle building. Path analysis revealed that the link between pubertal timing and body dissatisfaction was mediated by BMI, whereas the effect of pubertal timing on dysregulated eating symptoms was not mediated by any of the theorized risk factors (i.e., BMI, weight-based teasing, perceived pressures for thinness, thin-ideal internalization).
Discussion: Findings highlight the importance of assessing multiple disordered eating constructs to detect differential effects of earlier pubertal timing on distinct disordered eating symptoms. Further, while early pubertal timing may impact risk for a range of symptoms, results suggest that early pubertal timing likely confers risk for various disordered eating symptoms (e.g., body dissatisfaction vs. dysregulated eating) through different etiologic pathways.
Disordered eating; Eating disorders; Pubertal maturation; Pubertal timing
Shope, Megan Marie, "Elucidating the Lasting Influence of Early Pubertal Timing on Disordered Eating Symptoms" (2019). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 3677.
Available for download on Saturday, August 15, 2026