More than a quarter of children in England are on a diet, including a growing number of children who are of a healthy weight, research shows.
A study of more than 34,000 young people in England found an “alarming” increase in the proportion of children trying to shed the pounds, including some as young as eight.
Data from 34,235 children aged eight to 17 years collected as part of the Health Survey for England from 1997 to 2016 were analysed.
It found that the percentage of children trying to lose weight “increased significantly over time,” from 21.4 percent in 1997-98 to 26.4 percent in 2015-16.
The proportion of weight-loss children who are already considered healthy has almost tripled from 5.3 percent (every 20th child) to 13.6 percent (every seventh).
There was also a jump from 9 percent to 39.3 percent in overweight children trying to diet and from 32.9 percent to 62.6 percent in obese children.
According to the study, in 2015/2016, about one in five children aged eight to 12 and one in three children aged 13 to 17 was trying to lose weight.
Girls were generally more likely than boys to attempt weight loss, but the increase over time was only significant for boys, the researchers, which included scientists from Oxford University, said.
Older children were more likely to want to lose weight than younger ones, as were children from Asian and low-income families.
Writing in the diary Archives of childhood illnessesaccording to the experts, from 2011/12 there was a significant increase in attempts to lose weight among children.
This coincided with parents receiving feedback on their child’s weight as part of the National Child Measurement Program (NCMP), which weighs and measures students in Reception Class and 6th Grade.
The experts said: “A previous survey found that providing NCMP weight feedback increased detection of childhood obesity and encouraged some parents to seek help, but it is also plausible that this led to greater self-management.”
They said they were concerned the increase in weight loss attempts “has not been matched by an increase in the provision of weight management services in England, creating a risk of unattended and potentially inappropriate weight management behaviour”.
dr Aryati Ahmad, co-lead author and researcher at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, now based at the Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin in Malaysia, said experts have found that the number of children who reporting attempts to lose weight is growing faster than the increase in obesity.
she said The guard: “Frighteningly, the data also showed that more and more children with a “healthy” weight stated that they also wanted to lose weight.
“This is a cause for concern and suggests that more attention is needed to properly target weight control messages.”
The latest NCMP data for England shows 14.4 per cent of children in the 2020/21 reception class were obese, up from 9.9 per cent in 2019/20.
Among 10- and 11-year-old sixth-grade students, the prevalence of obesity increased from 21 percent in the 2019-20 school year to 25.5 percent in the 2020-21 school year.
The experts behind the new study suggested that attempts to lose weight in all children are now outpacing increasing weight gain in the same age group.
From 2009/10 to 2011/12, the frequency of weight loss attempts among older children (13 to 17) increased from just over 4 percent to 57.5 percent among those who were overweight and from just under 31.5 percent to just under 82 percent among those who were were obese.
Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “The news that more and more children seem to be taking their weight seriously is most welcome, but this achievement must be greeted with an air of caution.
“The survey emphasizes that its data are estimates rather than precise, but that can easily be overcome with the proposed expansion of the NCMP.
“It is worrying that children of a healthy weight appear to be ‘dieting’ and should be gently told to stop.”
Additional coverage by Press Association