Half of teenage girls aged 14-15 want to lose weight
More than half of 14 and 15-year-old schoolgirls want to lose weight, despite many being healthy, according to a new study.
The Schools Health Education Unit found that 58 per cent of female pupils in the fourth year and equivalent, around the UK, would like to shed some weight.
A quarter of girls had no breakfast on the morning they were questioned and 20 per cent skipped lunch the day before.
Researchers said that of the girls who missed breakfast, 36 per cent reported having nothing for lunch the previous day.
Campaigners said the figures were not surprising and renewed calls for a wider cultural change to promote a positive body image, particularly among young girls.
The survey of 31,354 children, between ten and 15, across the UK, also found half of 12 to 13-year-old girls would like to lose weight.
The researchers concluded: “Analysis of the characteristics of the females shows that most of those wanting to lose weight are within the limits of ‘healthy’ weight, and some are already underweight.”
Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, who has been a frequent critic of the way female body images are portrayed in the media, said pupils needed better role models as well as positive lessons from parents and society.
She said examples, such as the singer Adele, cited as proof of changing attitudes to body image, were merely reinforcing the idea that thin is the norm.
The MP said: “It’s really worrying these kind of figures, but it’s not entirely surprising.
“The message sent out to young girls is how they look [is important], rather than what they say or do.
“Girls take that message and do some of the damaging things like skipping meals.
“We need a change in the culture of judging people on appearance. If we look at people paraded as role models, they fit one particular body size.
“But there is no reason for a girl to look a particular way.”
The eating disorders charity Beat said the figures were not surprising. They said young people compare themselves to the “hyper-real perfection” of airbrushed images.
A spokeswoman said: “One of the key features of current popular culture is a preoccupation with weight and shape and we know that poor body image and low self-esteem are key factors in the development of eating disorders. Social and cultural pressures are strong in this area.
“The fascination with celebrities, their bodies, clothes and appearance has increased the pressure that young people feel as they seek to establish their own identities – and typically at a time when their own bodies are growing and changing as they naturally mature and become adult.”
The survey also found that three-quarters of pupils feel that they are “in charge” of their health, but between 15 per cent and 17 per cent of boys and girls thought their health was down to luck.
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