Obesity obsession 'means other weight problems missed'

Underweight Is there enough focus on underweight children?

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The issue of underweight school children is being missed because of an "obsession" with tackling obesity, a group of researchers has claimed.

An Essex University study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity and involving 10,000 children aged nine to 16, found one in 17 was too thin.

Researcher Dr Gavin Sandercock said weighing too little was more damaging to health than weighing too much.

He warned that society was focused almost exclusively on obesity.

The research team looked at nearly 10,000 children aged nine to 16 in the east of England.

The height, weight, age and gender of the pupils was used to work out how many were too thin.

Start Quote

Where children are severely underweight, it's often due to an underlying illness for which they'll need specialist medical help”

End Quote Dr Hilary Cass

They showed 6% of all children were underweight, but it was more common in girls (6.4%) than boys (5.5%).

There were also large differences between ethnic groups. Asian backgrounds had the highest prevalence of being underweight at 8.7%.

It can lead to a lack of energy, weakened immune systems and delayed periods.

Forgotten problem?

The problem of underweight children "may be more prevalent than we thought in the UK", said the scientists.

They said the fear of becoming obese, rising food prices, poor diets and a lack of muscle from low levels of exercise may all be playing a role.

"The fact is the UK is obsessed with overweight and obesity - yet it is now accepted that underweight may pose a much greater risk to health."

Dr Sandercock said attention had "absolutely" swung too far towards tackling obesity and warned children who were underweight could be being "missed".

He called for better training for GPs to spot the problem and new ways of helping parents.

Research published earlier this year showed that doctors may be missing the problem. University College London academics interviewed paediatricians at 177 hospitals in England and Wales and found a lack of knowledge about the warning signs of children being underweight.

Dr Hilary Cass, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Dietary related problems in children are not uncommon, and it's been well documented that childhood obesity is prevalent amongst the UK population.

"Of course we also have to take seriously the fact that there are some children who are under-nourished or struggle with eating disorders."

The Royal College has developed growth charts for children between two and 18 which helps doctors tell if a child has a problem.

Dr Cass said: "Where children are severely underweight, it's often due to an underlying illness for which they'll need specialist medical help.

"But for the majority of cases, if we can get our children eating, choosing and ultimately cooking nutritious food, then we have a much better chance of preventing all sorts of dietary related problems - whether that's being over or underweight."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @35.Kid Chameleon

    ''...Yes, of course there is a huge element of slovenly mindset, but where do you start in addressing the problem?...''

    You can't. Society and govt can't make up for the mindset of parents who ignore the impact of diet and lack of exercise on their children no matter how much money you want to throw at the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    We've had the dinner lady food police confiscating contraband. I can agree with sweets and fizzy drinks not being appropriate in a school lunchbox but I will not tolerate removal of an individual chocolate biscuit on the grounds of protecting my perfectly normal, fit, active and if anything slightly underweight children from obesity by people who frankly could do with losing a few Kgs themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    Yep - rely on the government to do everything for you. Damn the UK is a nation of softies who need the nanny state to hold their hands on almost everything.

    Are any in the UK free thinkers and doers anymore?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Whilst children being anorexic is an issue, it is a far smaller (pun intended) problem than the obesity epidemic. The cure for both is simple: eat healthily and exercise regularly. The solution has to start with the parents, they are who the children learn their habits from most.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    We've developed such a ridiculous obsession with calorie counting that that we now shove all sorts of artificial preservatives and sweeteners into our food to try and make these appealing "diet" options. Half of these preservatives/sweeteners are cancerous; of he other half we have no idea about their effects...

    Driving this sort of dieting mentality into society is not constructive or helpful

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    It's true, we should be teaching children to have a healthy relationship with food, and enjoy exercise, not obsessing about fat. My two children, 5 and 9 keep saying things like "I don't want to be fat" and they are both so thin. School keeps telling them that certain foods are bad, and I feel a bit more balance is needed. It's far more dangerousto be 2 stone underweight than 2 stone overweight!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    A weight-obsessed friend of mine (a Cambridge dieter and now sales rep) has a 6-year-old daughter who chastises her ("Naughty mummy") for doing things like having one piece of cake at a birthday party. It's her mum's own obsession that has caused her child to do this - when will parents realise that it's not healthy to instill attitudes like this into young children!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @30 Chubby1

    The hard fact is that the majority of parents whose children are grossly obese are those on low incomes, and who will simply buy the cheapest, most convenient foods. Yes, of course there is a huge element of slovenly mindset, but where do you start in addressing the problem? The place that motivates people most; their pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Over 20% of the population are obese, and only a tiny fraction at the other extreme. Both are serious problems, and we all know the measures to tackle the main one. Perhaps it's time to really tackle the problems at the other end

    Maybe we should stop the fashion magazines obsession with size 0 models and tips on how to shed weight you don't have

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I have 3 kids all the same gender yet 2 years apart.The eldest is thin,the middle one is a different shape but not over weight,and the youngest is tall and is of average weight.They are all vegetarian, I watch their diets carefully as the younger two have the disposition to become over weight,so they swim and exercise 4 times a week.We are overweight,so I am trying hard to make sure they arent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    jameshscience #4:

    "I definitely think that there needs to be checks at both end of the spectrum but I would hope that they're using something more than just age, weight, height and gender.... Surely body composition (ratio of fat to muscle etc) is going to be far more useful?"

    Yes, but for those measures it is not so easy for bureaucrats to give health staff and teachers boxes to tick and count.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Yes, can everyone please stop paying attention to the 30%+ of all British children who are obese and will cost the NHS billions, and instead focus on the 6% of children who are skinny (like I was) and will fill out as they get older...and all because Dr Gavin Sandercock couldn't find a more useful way to get himself published.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    @27.Kid Chameleon

    ''...How about the government subsidising healthier foods?...''

    How about parents of obese or underweight children took a bit of responsibility and stopped their offsprings adopting unhealthy eating habits or not exercising.

    Govt would be more likely to tax unhealthy foods than subsidise healthy foods and I don't want to pay any more tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Processed food is stuffed full of fats, preservatives, sugars, pesticides etc. We don't walk or run enough.
    The body can't deal with this 'perfect storm' so we tend to overwight. The media throws endless anorexic images at us, so many (mainly young girls) get a hang up and become anti fat obsessives(anorexia).
    It will only get worse with the need for ever more highly processed crowded living.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    When my daughter was born the health visitor weighed her obsessively and kept telling my she was in 75th% so I needed to cut her food to reduce her weight, despite the fact that she was off the height scale and clearly had no ounce of fat on her. At 5 now, she eats like a horse, it as tall as a 7 yr old and thin as a rail. 1 size doesn't fit all

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    There is a problem at either end of the scales, but currently the obesity issue far outweighs (no pun intended) that of malnutrition. If we were to tackle the issue of healthy diets properly in schools and, more importantly, in homes, it would benefit both categories and hopefully remove some of the future burden from the NHS. How about the government subsidising healthier foods?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Well, I've heard it all now..Is there ANYTHING we don't worry ourselves to death over these days?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Maybe lame celebrities and entertainment agencies should stop posting diet tips & printing out how fat people are in their bikinis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This si only anecdote, but we run a theatre group that works with predominatly young people.

    It has been noticed over the years as well as the increase in the no. of over weight children the size of the biggest has increased.

    But equally for every fat kid there's an unhealthily skinny one and the skinniest are even skinnier than they used to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Surely it's wrong to focus on weight alone anyway? They should simply be promoting health to all children, regardless of what the scales say. After all, it's possible to be a "healthy weight" without eating a healthy diet. The current obssession based purely how much people weigh, both young and old, is therefore missing the bigger picture.


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