Determinants of weight gain in young women: A review of the literature

Sarah Wane*, Jannique G.Z. Van Uffelen, Wendy Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Young adult women (18-36 years) are gaining weight at rates higher than women in other age groups. Given its long-term deleterious health effects, it is important to know the determinants of this weight gain. However, other than in relation to pregnancy, little is known about the determinants of weight gain in this population group. 

Materials and Methods: Papers examining nonpregnancy weight gain in young women were identified through a literature search in PubMed in August 2008. Subsequently, reference lists of included papers were checked for additional eligible papers. 

Results: A total of 29 papers were included in this review. They were grouped into five categories on the basis of the main identified determinants of weight gain: contraception (4); dietary behaviors (3); quitting smoking (1); physical activity (PA) (1); and university transition (20 papers). Study duration ranged from 13 days to 15 years. Weight was objectively measured in 25 studies and self-reported in 4 studies. Twenty-seven papers reported weight gain; the highest rates were observed with initial exposure to contraceptive use and the first semester of attending a university. 

Conclusions: Even though young adulthood is a vulnerable time for weight gain in women, the number of studies examining specific determinants of weight gain was small. Those located identified five social and behavioral determinants, with most of the research focusing on the transition to and through a university, and few studies in nonuniversity populations. More studies are needed to assess the concurrent contributions of multiple determinants of weight gain at this life stage, so that appropriate interventions to prevent excess weight gain can be developed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1327-1340
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Women's Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


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