July 21, 2022 — The number of children in the UK trying to lose weight is on the rise, but scientists warn of a threefold increase in the number of children who are already at a healthy weight and are following also a diet.
A study from the University of Oxford and a report from the Food Foundation shed light on the poor diet of children in Britain and the United Kingdom. The results reveal that children are struggling to lose weight, but, at the same time, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are increasing.
NutritionInsight talks to the researchers, the British Nutrition Foundation and Action on Sugar and Salt, about the implications of these findings.
“We don’t know why this happened in these children, whether due to environmental or parental influence, medical conditions, or supervision or aftercare,” says co-author Melissa Little. and researcher at the University of Oxford.
Commenting on the results, Dr Annette Creedon, Head of Nutrition at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “Obesity and overweight in children are significant health issues for children and their families and have serious consequences for the physical and mental health of the child, which may persist into adulthood.
“Children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, and they have an increased risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life.
Children’s eating habits?
The Oxford Study used results from Health Survey England (HSE) from 1997 to 2016 and included responses from 34,235 children aged 8 to 17. He found that the number of children dieting in these age groups increased from 21.4% to 26.5% during this period.
The study further found that these increases were most pronounced among older children, Asian children, boys, and all categories of low-income families.
“It’s clear that youth weight loss attempts are on the rise,” Little says. “The majority of weight loss behaviors are about kids getting past a healthy weight. This is positive because it means the message about the importance of maintaining a healthy weight is getting across.”
“We need more services to support overweight and obese children who want to lose weight so that it can happen in a safe and supportive environment.”
Healthy kids also diet
The study also found that from 2012 there was a steady increase in the number of children who were already at a healthy weight and were also trying to lose weight. It further revealed that this increase parallels an increase in eating disorders which could also expose children of healthy weight to effects of undernutrition such as growth retardation.
“The fact that children seem to take their weight and health seriously is positive,” says Dr Aryati Ahmad, a researcher at the University of Oxford and Sultan Zainal Abidin University. “However, it should be taken with caution and with proper supervision and monitoring. Appropriate weight messages should be provided to prevent inappropriate weight control behavior in children.
“Previous research has suggested that there has been an increase in the misperception of weight and dieting for weight loss among young people, and societal and media pressures may contribute to this,” says Creedon. “This underscores the importance of appropriate weight-related health messages for young people and their families.”
What is concerning, as the authors point out, is that efforts to lose weight have not been accompanied by an increase in the provision of weight management services to support this.
British children facing malnutrition on all sides
The Food Foundation report shows that despite increased attempts to lose weight, childhood obesity rates jumped 50% from 2019 to 2020. It reveals that 14.4% of first year children in England and 15.5% of children first graders in Scotland are considered obese.
For children born this year, one in four will be overweight or obese by the time they enter their first year of school. Additionally, the report predicts that three-quarters will be overweight or obese by the age of 65, one-third will have diabetes and one-fifth will have heart disease.
The report further notes that the UK government has set targets for Halve childhood obesity by 2030. However, the childhood obesity rate has increased by 50% since this target was set in 2018.
Set the table
The Food Foundation report highlights children’s breakfast cereal as a factor in increasing childhood obesity.
“Only 7% of breakfast cereals marketed to children are actually ‘low’ in sugar,” says Katharine Jenner, director of Action on Sugar and Salt. “But why? They are some of the biggest food companies selling millions of boxes of cereal in the world. Kellogg’s alone accounts for almost a third of global retail value and has already reformulated its products so that they contain less salt and sugar.
“The majority (55%) of their products are still unhealthy, and instead of working to reformulate and improve the nutritional quality of their foods, they have focused their efforts on trying to reverse government restrictions on the promotion and advertising of HFSS foods,” she points out.
Creedon concludes that these things “underscore the need for a better understanding of the influence of public health campaigns and messages on overweight/obesity, which must take into account potential adverse effects and ensure that they minimize any risk of weight-related stigma”.
By William Bradford Nichols
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirstsister site of, NutritionInsight.
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