Girls as young as SIX unhappy with their bodies are dieting over fears about body image
- Study of British children found girls as young as six are going on diets
- Despite the growing obesity problem, anorexia rates have also risen
- Record numbers of sufferers are being admitted to British hospitals
Girls as young as six are going on diets, a study of British schoolchildren has found.
Despite having not long started primary school, children are already unhappy with their bodies and trying to lose weight.
Eating disorder charities spoke of their sadness that youngsters are fretting about their weight at a time that should be one of the most carefree of their lives.
Researchers from Leeds Beckett University asked 301 under-nines questions about their attitude to food and how happy they were with their bodies - and found many were dissatisfied with their shape, particularly girls
Despite the growing obesity problem, anorexia rates have also risen.
Record numbers of sufferers are being admitted to British hospitals. Some patients are as young as nine and the figures have doubled in a decade.
The study findings raise questions about the anti-obesity drive in schools.
The child measurement programme – which involves children being weighed and measured in school according to their BMI – has drawn criticism from parents of children as young as four who have received letters telling them their child must go on a diet.
Researchers from Leeds Beckett University asked 301 under-nines questions about their attitude to food and how happy they were with their bodies.
For example, they were asked if they try to eat less to stop themselves from getting fat and whether they were aware of their parents dieting.
The child measurement programme has drawn criticism from parents who have received letters telling them their child must go on a diet (file image)
Some 19 per cent of the boys and girls were overweight or obese and these youngsters were more dissatisfied with their shape than their thinner classmates.
Girls were particularly likely to want to be thinner, the European Congress on Obesity heard.
Surprisingly, the younger children were more likely to say they had dieted than the older ones.
Professor Pinki Sahota, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Children are exhibiting dieting behaviours which may lead to compromising the quality of the diet at a time when they need a good-quality, healthy diet, for growth and development.’
Researcher Meaghan Christian said: ‘I think this shows that children are picking up on body image problems at a younger age than ever before. It is not something you’d want six year olds to be worried about.’ She said that having a negative body image could make it harder for the children to lose weight when they are older. It may also raise their risk of anorexia.
Dr Christian said childhood obesity programmes must take care not to stigmatise the condition.
She added that professional weight loss programmes usually focus on getting children to maintain their weight – rather than lose it, to ensure they have all the nutrients they need as they grow.
Mary George, of the eating disorder charity Beat, said: ‘Throwaway comments can have a lasting effect and we should challenge ourselves not to make negative comments about shape, size and avoid conversations around dieting within earshot of our children.’
Last year guidance from Public Health England suggested parents should be phoned up and told if their child is too fat.
It said school nurses could offer parents advice on how to help their child lose weight through better nutrition and exercise.
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