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 82.

    "Romans 14:21
    It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble"

    I think this is a reference to some high jinks at the last supper. John crouching down behind James whilst Jesus gives him a good shove and all the disciples having a jolly good laugh as he falls over and then thinking it might be a bit dangerous and adding this into the Bible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Only true so long as the child's growth and brain development is not permanently stunted due to starvation - which is parental neglect.
    Just look at all the selfish and ignorant parents, more concerned about their own lives than their kids! They buy cheap food packed with chemicals, no fruit, no veg, load them up with sugar and then blame the schools for their idiot children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.


    I was 7 stone (about 44 kg) when I left university!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Keep calm and eat a slice of cake.


  • rate this

    Comment number 78.


    'Children come in all shapes and sizes : all that matters is that they enjoy their childhood.'

    Only true so long as the child's growth and brain development is not permanently stunted due to starvation - which is parental neglect. Having been forced to watch this happen, I can promise you that the authorities are far from Orwellian busybodies. Children need nutritients for brain and body.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It's not just children, and not just GPs and parents failing to recognise a problem. Being underweight is seen as aspirational rather than problematic in our society.
    I have a long-term illness which leaves me struggling to keep my weight up. I'm often shocked by the comments I get - I can be gaunt and weak, and people are approvingly or enviously saying "You're so slim!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Finally someone has had the nerve to say it, being underweight is as damaging, if not more so, than being overweight. I am disgusted in the way overweight people are guilted into unhealthy relationships with food because society demands that we should all be stick thin, but the negative health implications of being too skinny are airbrushed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Can this country stop our obsessive relationship with the United States and then all problems to do with being over or underweight will be gone. Simple message: eat healthy, think healthy, be healthy and burn off excess with exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Most Europeans do it so why can't we. Guess not as Anglo American relationship is so strong and full of harm to the individual inc Plastic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    My brother is 14 and only 44 kilograms - I can lift him up with ease and if he doesn't wear a shirt, his ribs are so obvious! Unforunately he eats like a pig and gains no weight at all, despite how much mum tells him to eat. Whereas I eat like a pig at 19 and put weight on stupidly easy. It's why I can't have nice things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    "anorexia by proxy"
    Paradoxically, amongst those most able to fund 'good diet' (established in business or profession), many come from poor backgrounds, years of student-life, 'start-up' insecurity, inheriting or acquiring frugality made worse by 'professional alertness' to health-scares (food & nutrition), too late seeing the use made by stressed children

    Get help. LONG before 16.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    56. Praise Him "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble"

    Being a vegetarian non-alcoholic, I note my brother's too drunk not too stumble. My sister's okay though ... your book doesn't care about her, apparently. Bit one sided?

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.


    It used to be: height - 100 = ideal weight, so if you are 1.65 tall your ideal weight would be 65kg.
    Nowadays you are just about "OK" with your BMI.
    But if you are 1.90 and weigh 90kg you are already just about obese.

    Maybe complexity is a contributing factor that nobody cares if you are asked to watch e.g. 5 a day, BMI, exercise, sleep, sun factor and many more and it doesn't come natural.


  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Obviously the ConDem's bedroom tax will ensure that there is no more obesity in the UK, since those most susceptable to buying cheap, fatty foods will not be able to afford to eat.


  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    This isn't just a problem for kids either, our entire culture is built on the desire to be thinner, and you should try being a skinny guy eating healthily! Almost everything on supermarket shelves these days is intended for people on a diet, which means someone with a fast metabolism like me has to eat three times the normal amount of "diet" food just to maintain! This is a cultural fanaticism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    If we see someone who's fat or thin (forget the PC words) we automatically ignore everything else. Is this a genetic thought process built up over millenia or is it something that's just developed recently?

    And what happens if we achieve the technology to automatically adjust a person's body mass (ala Star Trek's transporter?)? Will we all be forced to look the same....

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    What the heck is a health visitor? Is that one of those fake jobs created so an interfering civil servant busybody can get a pension on the taxpayer years down the road?

    A health visitor is a registered Nurse or midwife who provides health support in the community to particularly to parents of young children. Its a role that has existed since the 1907 Notification of Births Act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    Forcing supermarkets?????

    And who does that - oh yeah more government - and that entails more expense by creating yet more fake jobs.

    Stop this vicious circle.

    If people are too dumb to eat properly - LET THEM !!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I wouldn't worry too much about the poor or vulnerable getting fat, George Osborne will see there is no chance of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    This is simply the result of an insidious media celebrity train and cheap fatty sugary foods combined with a lack of sports at school level. The answer to obesity is not eat less, its EAT MORE HEALTHILY and DO MORE EXERCISE. Forcing supermarkets to subsidise healthy food would also help.


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