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Two thirds of 13 years old girls are afraid of gaining weight

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Feet on scalesTwo thirds of 13 year old girls are afraid of gaining weight or getting fat, according to new research from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UCL Institute of Child Health and King’s College London. Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the report is believed to be the first of its kind outside the United States.

Researchers used data on 7,082 participants from the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol, on adolescents at age 13 and then at age 15. The study showed that 63.2% of girls and nearly 40% of boys were afraid of gaining weight or getting fat, and that 11.5% of girls compared with 4.7% of boys were ‘extremely afraid or terrified’ of gaining weight.

The study also found that 34% of girls and 21% of boys were upset or distressed about their weight and shape, and that 26% of girls and 14.5% of boys had restricted their food intake (by fasting, skipping meals or throwing away food) in the previous three months.

Other key findings included:

The findings indicate that even in very early adolescence, eating disorder behaviours are not unusual, particularly in girls, and are reported by parents. They also show that these eating problems have an impact on the child’s mental health, and their social, personal and family life. 

The researchers found that the patterns of eating-disorder behaviours seen among young teenagers in the population, although not amounting to full eating disorders, had negative consequences on young people’s social, psychological and physical health. This has important implications for increasing efforts to identify young people who have the behaviours shown in the study. The authors state that public health efforts for early identification and prevention of eating disorders are crucial.

Co-author, Bianca DeStavola, Professor of Biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "Our study has found that behaviours typical of an eating disorder are more common in early adolescence than we previously thought - not just in girls but also in boys.

“These behaviours are associated with a range of social and psychological problems. Importantly, we found a connection with certain behaviours and higher weight two years later, which has important public health implications for the prevention of obesity."

The authors add that there is still much work to do to be able to identify boys and girls who have unhealthy weight control behaviours and binge-eating early, but this is vital to prevent full-blown eating disorders and other negative social and emotional problems.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

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Image: Feet on scales. Credit: iStockphoto

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