Over a quarter of children are dieting, including children of a healthy weight, amid a ‘steady rise’ in the number of children with overweight and obesity in England.
Research from the University of Oxford found 26.5% of children reported trying to lose weight between 2015 and 2016 – a 5% increase compared to between 1997 and 1998.
The most significant increases in weight loss attempts were seen in boys, older children, Asian children and children from lower-income families.
The study looked at dieting patterns in the face of rising childhood obesity and was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Obesity affects one in five children in the UK, and childhood obesity has been incentivised as a Government priority since 2004.
In 2006, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published its first guidelines on the prevention and treatment of excess weight in children leading to a rise in weight management programmes for children.
Melissa Little, a co-author of the study from the University of Oxford, said: ‘There’s been a steady rise in the number of children with overweight or obesity in England over the past decades amongst children and young people. However, we don’t know much about the numbers or characteristics of those children who may be attempting to lose weight. So, for this study, we wanted to see if there were any trends or changes in the prevalence of weight loss attempts amongst 8- to 17-year-old children.’
The researchers examined data from over 34,000 children aged 8-17 who participated in the Health Survey for England (HSE) between 1997 and 2016. Using this data, the researchers tracked how common weight loss attempts were across several sociodemographic characteristics, including age, gender, weight status, ethnicity, and household income.
They found that weight loss attempts had increased in the children who were overweight or obese, but this had not been matched by an increase in weight management services for these children. The researchers suggest that services to support obese children’s weight loss must expand to avoid unsupervised or inappropriate attempts to control weight.
In addition, it was found that weight loss attempts were growing faster than the rise in excess weight of children and some attempts at childhood weight loss may be inappropriate.
Dr Aryati Ahmad from the University of Oxford, now based at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin in Malaysia, added: ‘Alarmingly, the data also showed that an increasing proportion of children with a ‘healthy’ weight also reported trying to lose weight. This raises concerns and suggests greater attention is needed to target weight control messages appropriately.’
Projections published in June warned that around 40% of 10 to 11-year-olds will be obese or overweight by 2030 if trends in childhood obesity continue at their current rate, with health experts calling for ‘bold steps’ to be taken to tackle this ‘public health crisis.’