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 102.

    My daughter who is 6, has always being tall and slim build, on starting school I was bombarded with letters making me feel like a bad mother who does not feed her child. Despite my daughter having a very healthy appetite and enjoying fruit etc I felt the school did not take into account the children's individual circumstances and just issued a standard letter for all children underweight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    'Doctors may be missing the problem'. Why should doctors be the first people to spot if a child is overweight, underweight or eating poorly? Isn't that the responsibility of the child's parents? Or has that aspect of raising a child also been offloaded onto that amorphous surrogate parent, 'Society'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    As a size 10/12 I feel the pressure to be 'skinny' even though I already am. Unless a size 8 magazines/media make me feel fat which is ridiculous! I will never be on the front of a magazine but i'm ok with that. I was brought up to know what is healthy and I think that is what's most important. Parents should teach by example with healthy eating, exercise and positive attitudes towards figures

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I'm thin and my body doesn't seem to understand the concept of calories, so I can eat anything much to the chagrin of world + dog. I also lift weights and that makes no difference. The comment about supermarkets only stocking low cal foods is accurate. There also is bullying, in that some people perceive you as weak and that leads to constant trouble. Basically, being thin is a nightmare.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Nice to see the BBC not missing an opportunity to illustrate an article with a picture of a skinny young woman.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    news_monitor @89
    "responsibility of the parents"

    Congratulations if you've enjoyed success, now able to 'take the credit' for your children's health

    Spare a thought for us failures, with high-risk genes, high-risk jobs, children with high-risk talents, schools attracting similar, universities attracting worse

    All different: always thin can make-it, previously not may not

    Be alert, in CHILDHOOD

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I went to the most well-known burger dispensary yesterday - the first time in 12 months.

    It was absolutley packed solid with men, women and children and I am sorry to say that most were overweight. I was asked if I wanted it 'large' for each of the 4 meals I ordered.

    We need to curb this relentless pushing of food as a good thing to go & do rather than as a necessity, and learn to cook too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The amount of young people in society today kind of obsessed with how skinny they are is frightening. Social media, especially Instagram (which I thought was for sharing photography, silly me!) is full of teenage girls posting pictures with how they need to 'shed a few pounds for summer' when they already look anorexic!
    This is a big problem in society that some parents need to tackle now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    The article is spot-on identifying it as one of our current societal obsessions. It is as prevalent as discussing the weather in the UK now and many folk, not only women as was common, now openly discuss their efforts to lose weight, or how they manage their weight - and bizarrely it also seems acceptable to comment on other peoples' weight as being overweight is an established 'problem'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Heredity plays a part in the type of body we develop. If your ancestors rode into battle shooting arrows, you are far more likely to have naturally bigger thighs & more powerful shoulders&arms. Even more so if yours battled with heavy swords. All of us had more physically active forebears. Making people feel bad because of the DNA they inherit is essentially racist. Consider the DNA before dieting

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    No figures for the percentages overweight to put it all into perspective. I imagine this would be way above the 6% too thin

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    The body fascists could not care less about the underweight, they merely seek to bully the overweight. The NHS are clearly the leaders in this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Perception is the biggest problem here. Being overweight is seen as being dangerous, but obviously being too thin is equally dangerous. But because we are bombarded everyday by images of models and celebrities like Posh Spice who magazines portray as the epitome of beautiful, how will we ever tackle the problem of being too thin when we're told being too thin is sexy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Schools have no business controlling what children eat - that's the responsibility of the parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @ 85. And_here_we_go_again
    I agree with you, I am the other way, if I eat more than about 1200 cal a day and do not go for an hours walk at least 5 days a week, I put on weight.

    Dr told me I had to lose a few more lbs and was on 1000 cal a day, I lost half pound in 10 days and he didn't believe I had not cheated, until I had to go in hospital and I lost no weight on their own 1000 cal diet...

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Absolutely, we have lost sight of the fact that humanity comes in a range of shapes & sizes. Indeed, being very overweight is a sign of underlying health problems that need to be precisely diagnosed. It is not all about "stuffing yourself." But equally, stick-like thin is most often malnutrition & especially worrisome when it is the young being deliberately underfed or youth starving themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    musictechguy @60
    "I don't' have all the answers"

    We may question even 'the way of the world'. In countries with 'less anorexia', the vulnerable might simply 'not make it' to adolescence

    My guess though, the deep ramifications of inequality, insecurity, division & stress will prey on the vulnerable, sensitive &/or abused

    If suspected, get help before 'over-16' precludes. Or forever regret

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I agree, blanket advice does not take into account different metabolisms. I remember being called to the school medical department (some time ago now) for a talk about healthy eating as I'd lots 4 pounds in a year. They were talking about salads and so forth and all I could think is "if I eat that I'd be even thinner" as I was probably eating about 3000kCal a day at that point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    eat less, eat more, eat less, eat more! its not all about eating. people need to get outside, walk to work, walk to school (if possible) to get to school it would have took me half an hour, that's an hour walking there and back everyday, now I go for a walk everyday during my lunch break at work. Its easy, relaxing and if everyone did it, it would cut down obesidy and being under wight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    @80 but how tall were you? My brother's pushing 165 cm and has a lot more growing to do (he's not 15 til August!) and I reckon he'll push past 180 cm, but not if he stays 44 kilos forever!


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