Professor in the Department of Epidemiology
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Associate Epidemiologist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Staff Scientist, Children’s Hospital Boston
Dr. Field’s research focuses on the modifiable causes, correlates, consequences, and course of overweight, weight gain, and disordered eating among children, adolescents, and adult women. At present, her research bases are the approximately 121,000 middle-aged and older adult female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study, 116,000 adult women in the Nurses’ Health Study II and 16,800 of their children who comprise the Growing Up Today Study.
The Epidemiology of Weight Control Behaviors among Adolescents
Dr. Field is a co-founder of the Growing Up Today Study, which was established in 1996 to assess the predictors of dietary intake, activity, and weight gain during a four year period. Her research within the study is primarily related to the epidemiology of weight gain, weight concerns, weight control practices, and bulimic behaviors. She is the principal investigator on the NIH grant to continue following the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS) cohort from 2002 to 2009 to investigate determinants of binge eating, purging (i.e., use of vomiting or laxatives) and eating disorders of at least subsyndromal severity. Her work based on GUTS includes the only large-scale prospective analyses on the development of weight concerns and unhealthy weight control behaviors in males. The results suggest that weight concerns and eating disorders are more common than previously thought. Although fewer males than females are preoccupied with a desire to be thinner, a non-trivial number of males are preoccupied with a desire to have more or better defined muscles. The latter concern is rarely assessed in studies that include males. She has observed that correlates of using unhealthy means to gain weight, such as using steroids, are associated with the factors we have prospectively identified as being risk factors for using unhealthy means to lose weight, such as wanting to look like same-sex figures in the media, among the girls.
The Epidemiology of Weight Gain
Dr. Field and colleagues assessed prospectively the weight change patterns from 1996 to 1999 of frequent dieters compared to infrequent and never dieters in the Growing Up Today Study. She found that dieting was more common among the girls, but during three years of follow-up, male and female dieters gained significantly more weight than non-dieters. In addition, boys who engaged in binge eating gained significantly more weight than non-dieters. Dr. Field has also studied weight control behaviors and weight change among 2,476 young and middle-aged women in the Nurses’ Health Study II who provided information on intentional weight losses between 1989 and 1993 and returned a supplementary questionnaire in 2000-2001 on weight concerns, weight control behaviors and attitudes, binge eating and body weight. She observed that after controlling for age and BMI in 1993, when weight cycling was initially assessed, mild cyclers gained an average of 6.7 lb more and severe cyclers gained approximately 10.3 lb more than non-cyclers between 1993 and 2001. Weight cyclers preferred to change their diet rather than to exercise to control their weight. Severe weight cyclers were less likely than non-cyclers to use frequent exercise as a weight control strategy. Cyclers were also more likely than non-cyclers to engage in binge eating. Independent of weight cycling status, age, and BMI, women who engaged in binge eating gained approximately 5 pounds more than their peers.