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 182.

    Nanny state gone mad...

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I wonder what UKIPs policy would be - no doubt kick out all immigrants to reduce underweight child population? They would mention potholes too just to be on-message.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    The school I work in, has far more underweight children than overweight ones, there never seems to be any worry about the underweight ones though

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    "It's a nice idea (using mirror to judge weight), but fatally flawed"
    Yes I know, you are right. The perception of how large you are is often different to reality, I myself struggle with accepting that I'm not fat (8.5st 5'6 - size 8/10) and I don't have an eating disorder. However I do believe a constant fixation with weight is more likely to lead to eating disorders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    When growing up my son put on weight, looked quite stocky then had massive growth spurt and looked like a stick. This cycle repeated itself until he reached his adult height. Did we worry? No normal part of growing up.
    How would school have coped with this? Sent letters one month telling us he appeared overweight, the next underweight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    It's kind of hard to discuss the problem of obesity in local communities when the Minister for Local Communities is Eric Pickles...

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    We have an overwight and VERY tall 3-year old, who has a very healthy appetite and diet. She is active and healthy, yet we have to see the health visitor every 6 months to monitor her weight. Some of her friends practically don't eat anything, and most of them eat junk in lieu of proper cooked food, and are more often unwell. And yet noone would even think of worrying about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    My child was an active club swimmer, the schools restrictions on packed lunch contents did not allow my child enough calories for her level of activity. While school dinners included ie lollies and teachers openly ate choccie biscuits with their tea. Huge contradiction including minimal outdoor activity in favour of school plays etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    about time this was addressed

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    It is people who are healthy or unhealthy, not the food they eat. It is a testament to the obsession with obesity that something so obvious needs to be said at all.

    Today "healthy" and "low in calories" are almost synonymous when, in fact, the reason we eat is to provide our bodies with energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Kid Chameleon, it will never happen. And actually, I don't want it to happen bacause they will then add money to all the things I have to eat to lose weight, such as cream, butter, cheese and so on. So long as they think fat is the issue, there will always be problems.

    Thinness may be more closely linked with obeisty than we know - perhaps an biological issue rather than what we eat?

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Why have we allowed situations like this to come to pass...???

    Because advertising makes money for companies and ocmpanies making money is all our society is designed to do...

    ...when has money become more important than everything else put together, regardless of the consequences...

    ...shame on everyone who voted for this - that's any of Thatcher/Major/Blair/Cameron's governments......

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    MLloyd @130
    "get on with life"
    ALL 'life-styles'?
    Whatever genetic risks?

    ARE 90-99% so vulnerable that they must be spared the oversight and 'education' that might save 1-10%?

    Perhaps so

    Counselling (nutrition & relationships), ideally one-to-one, if not with engaged parent (sadly so few can be) then with relevant professional (counsellor not class-teacher), referral(s) appropriately triggered

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    166. cycleguy Maybe that was part of the problem, I didn't have anyone to show me how I should build muscle. I ate a good balanced diet and trained frequently but it was no use but I was a child/teen, my body was changing. Towards my late teens and once I started researching techniques I did put on muscle. I'm still less than 8 stone (I'm female) but a lot stronger and more muscular.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    As horrible as it is, we cannot 'focus' on everything. 1 in 5 children are overweight, 1 in 17 are underweight - one needs more focus. Is it fair? No, of course not. Is it the best way forward when no fair way forward is realistically possible (good luck warning people they're getting too fat when you're also telling them they're too thin)? Probably

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    "... 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..."

    Whether or not you tolerate it, is quite irrelevant.

    There are many kids who would benefit. To, solely, consider your own offspring in this matter is quite narrow-minded and selfish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Azlak, anyone can put on muscle with the right training and diet. I'm a pretty skinny cyclist myself, and I've been able to put on weight by cutting down on long endurance rides concentrating on shorter faster ones.

    A lot of people use protein shakes to put on mass, but I think the healthiest option is just a balanced diet with plenty of good quality protein.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    'Suitable' weight for who? 'Appropriate' body weight for what? Whose paradigm and why? Now the obsession with fat people is overriding the obsession with being thin. I fear my sides may split. I can't wait for the day we all wake up, all looking exactly the same, and wearing each others' heads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.


    Genuine answer, no. I wanted to built muscle, not fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    We have to be very careful about this. Children need fat in their diet to develop. Diets for adults are so spectacularly unsuccessful (due to psychological reasons) that they would fail to pass muster for a standard drug test. The children here identified as underweight fall below a statistical test, physiologically they may not be underweight. As usual more questions than answers.


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