Three times as many healthy children attempting to lose weight, study finds

An increasing number of healthy children are dieting in a bid to lose weight, a new study has found.

Experts from Oxford University asked 34,000 children about their weight and found the number with a healthy body mass index (BMI) had tripled over the last two decades.

Youngsters were quizzed on whether they were trying to lose, maintain or gain weight.

When the study began in 1997, just five per cent of those with a healthy BMI were looking to shed pounds but by 2016 that had increased to 14 per cent.

Children who were already overweight were four times more likely to be attempting to lose weight, with the amount of obese youngsters looking to slim down doubling.

Researchers labelled overweight and obese children being more inclined to lose weight “a success”, the Daily Mail reports.

However, attitudes to weight loss among healthy children “raises concerns”, with campaigners urging youngsters attempting to diet with a healthy BMI to “snap out of it”.

Data suggests that around one in three children in the UK are overweight or obese, and the Oxford University study attempted to gauge how youngsters were engaging with their weight.

Responses from 34,235 children aged eight to 17 who took part in Health Survey for England were analysed between 1997 and 2016, with youngsters’ health habits monitored.

The study found that over a quarter of children – 26.5% – were trying to lose weight in 2016, findings published in Archives of Disease in Childhood showed.

Children aged 13 to 17 were more likely to trying to lose weight – around a third of teenagers compared to one in five eight to 12-year-olds.

Girls (60%) were more likely than boys (40%) to be trying to slim down, although the increase in the number of boys wanting to lose weight was higher over the study period.

The researchers wrote: “The rise in efforts to lose weight among children who were overweight or obese may imply some success in communicating the importance of weight control to this group.”

However, they added their “concern that the increase has not been matched by an increase in the provision of weight management services in England”, creating “a risk of unsupervised and potentially inappropriate weight control behaviours”.

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said in the Daily Mail: “The news that more and more children appear to be taking their weight seriously is most welcome but this success must be greeted with a hint of caution.

“It is concerning that children with a healthy weight appear to be ‘dieting’ and they should be gently told to snap out of it.”