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 142.

    This obsession with fat & calories makes young children beleive that they must not eat any fat or high-calorie foods, causing them to lose weight & become underweight.
    The message they get is that fatty food is unhealthy & that calorie-laden food is unhealthy. Children do not understand moderation & do not know that a low level of fat and carb intake is healthy.
    Mis-education is harming them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I've always been slightly built and as a teen was a European level athlete. I could not for the life of me put weight/muscle. What annoyed me back then was that people think it's okay to say to someone "Oh you're so skinny! How do you stay so thin?" but it's not acceptable to say "You're quite heavy! Tell me how you put on weight, I need to try it".

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Kids are fat and thin in school, and most people I know don't look anything like they did as kids. Bad food is a problem, but why all this focus on weight, and so little on quality of life? Studies now are saying sedentary lifestyle is the real killer. Yes, better food at school, then more inclusive sports programs. Athletics should be for everyone, not just for the athletically gifted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It would be lovely just for once to teach acceptance of people just how they are. All this guidance, media attention, fat shaming, thin shaming, 'awareness' weeks etc do not help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    These people are too fat...

    These people are too thin...

    These people are too extrovert...

    These people are too introvert...

    These people are too smart...

    These people are too stupid...

    These people are too tall...

    These people are too short...

    No wonder the next generation is confused, we try to squeeze them all into an 'ideal' that even we don't even properly understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

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


    And this is why we need more sub dividers into the term "Asian". South Asians in general tend to be obese due to their fat heavy diets; East Asians (Chinese etc) underweight due to the opposite.... so who are we talking about here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Ask a policeman what society's problems are he will tell you they are to do with law and order. Ask a nutritionist what society's problems are and surprise, surprise it's either obesity or being underweight. Why do the BBC report "facts" from groups with vested interests ? No news here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    BMI as a means of measuring over- or under-weight is useless. I have a friend who is a weight lifter, he is very fit and very strong-yet BMI says he is obese! There's not an ounce of fat on him and he eats very healthily, none of the pre-prepared stuff from supermarkets, always fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fresh meat and fish. So BMI is already discredited and grossly misleading. Ignore it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    So much of the diet/nutritional information given out by hospitals is wrong. We don't get fat by eating good fats and thin by cutting out fats. Our ancestors lived on meats and the fats from animals and ate root vegetables and only occasionally fruits in season. It is the high sugar and manufactured foods that make us fat - the high amounts of carbohydrates. A nutrient dense diet is vital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Next headline. Fat and thin child fixation fails children of average weight!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Our 7 year old granddaughter is on the stocky side. She is very active, in the football team,swims like a fish,always out on her bike.The family follow a healthy, balanced diet.My daughter has been told that the child must go on a stricter diet.She weighs 1 lb over the recommended weight for her age.Her brother is as thin as a rake,7 lbs below the set weight but no-one is concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Kids entering adolescence are being relentlessly bombarded by a media brainwashing machine that plays on their insecurities all in the name of selling you stuff you don’t really need.
    Your Too Fat, too Thin , you smell bad, you’ve got too many pimples, your clothes “are so yesterday” etc.
    I think bullying is a better word than advertising

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Yet another manifestation of the belief that not only does one size fit all, it does so because everyone is the same size. I am sick and tired of the endless obsessing about obesity and eating disorders. People come in all shapes and sizes, partly because of genetics, partly because of so-called lifestyles. Pity schools, governments, etc., can't grasp this simple, basic fact and get on with life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    The other year these so-called experts were moaning because people were starving themselves to make themselves thin under the influence of celebrities and supermodels. Indeed, there was a big campaign for proper sized models. Now these so-called experts are moaning because people are fat. You just can't win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I know someone who never gains weight no matter what or how much they eat. She's quite skinny but I found her incredibly sexy when I was going out with her, still do find her very sexy to this day, yum, yum!

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I get heartily fed up with folk who are deemed too fat, too thin or whatever. You are what you are. Your make up can be genetic it can be self-inflicted whether for good or bad.

    Much of it is to do with education, parental control and guidance, choice and commonsense. People have to take responsibility for their own self and not continually rely on the state or so-called experts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Another sensationalist study that again is going to damage the body image of young people so we can all look at ourselves in the mirror with disgust and wish we were different or more like the photoshop plastic people from magazines. I personally weight 9 stone, so I'm slim but I wouldn't give a damn if I was overweight, you're going to die of something in the end anyway! Might aswell eat well!

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    The only way to tackle the extremes of weight is to create a proper balanced diet. That's not balancing calories, substituting fat for cabbage-mould slime (Xanthan gum) or introducing carcinogenic sweeteners; the only way to get proper nutrition is to eat what we were meant to: fatty meat, green leafy veg, plenty of dairy, nuts and drinking water. It's not fashionable, it's called HEALTHY.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    In our PC world overweight people are the current 'legal' target for pointing the finger, hence it leaves others alone, including those who sometimes really do need attention. Many people ail from different things - unfortunately it all depends on what is the item of the week and whether it sells newspapers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The facts are simple. The schools don't do enough competitive sport for fear of injury, upset egos and so forth.
    Clubs can't cater for children because of excessive and onerous 'child safety' standards (we are all perverts right???? no wrong, but tell the government that they are wrong).
    Council sports centres/ swimming pools are a way of raising revenue and are priced too high for most people


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