More children are trying to lose weight today than nearly two decades ago, a team of researchers has found. Even those who have a “healthy” weight are trying to slash some pounds.
For their study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the researchers looked at data from 34,000 children aged 8 to 17 who were participants in the Health Survey for England (HSE) from 1997 to 2016, the University of Oxford noted in a news release.
They looked specifically at “common” weight loss attempts in the group and found that 26.5% of children actually reported that they tried to lose weight between 2015-2016. This was a “significant increase over time” compared to 1997-1998 when the rate was 21.4%, according to The Guardian. The largest increases were said to be among those in lower income households, in older children, boys and Asian children.
“Overall, we saw that the number of children reporting weight loss attempts is growing at a faster rate than the rise in excess weight,” a co-lead, Dr. Aryati Ahmad of the University of Oxford, currently based at Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Malaysia, said in the university news release.
There has been a bit of focus on childhood obesity in recent years. In England, authorities published the guidelines on preventing and treating excess weight in children in 2006, the university noted. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also called childhood obesity a “serious problem” in the country, affecting 14.7 million children and adolescents from 2017-2020. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 340 million kids and adolescents aged 5 to 19 were overweight or obese in 2016.
However, the researchers’ data showed that there was also an increase in weight loss attempts among the children considered to have a “healthy weight.” More specifically, the rise was 9% to 39.3% among those who were considered overweight, 32.9% to 62.6% among those considered obese and 5.3% to 13.6% among those who were considered to have a healthy weight, The Guardian noted.
“This raises concerns and suggests greater attention is needed to target weight control messages appropriately,” said Dr. Ahmad.
“We have been seeing a rise in boys dieting — it’s not just girls doing it,” one of the study authors, Melissa Little of the University of Oxford, added, as per the BBC News. “While some of the teenagers and children who are dieting are overweight, some are not. We’ve really got to think about getting the right health messaging across.”
Moreover, the increase in weight loss attempts in the age group reportedly does not coincide with an increase in weight management services available to them in England, according to the university. This risk prompts an increase in “unsupervised and potentially inappropriate” weight control practices and stresses the need for weight management support for those with obesity in the age group.
In the meantime, the researchers emphasized the need for more research to understand why there is an increase in weight loss efforts among young people with a healthy weight.
“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,” Tam Fry, the chair of the National Obesity Forum, said, as per The Guardian. “It is concerning that children with a healthy weight appear to be ‘dieting’ and they should be gently told to snap out of it.”