Girls under 11 go without food to gain 'ideal' shape

Rising anxiety about self-image forces even primary-age children to skip meals, warns study

Girls as young as primary-school age are increasingly troubled by their self-image, with more than a third of those aged between 10 and 11 eager to lose weight, and adopting drastic methods to pursue their ideal body shape, according to a new report.

The study, by the Schools Health Education Unit, paints a disturbing picture of how teenage girls are responding to anxiety about their appearance in a celebrity culture that places a premium on good looks. Of the 83,000 pupils interviewed, almost a third of girls in Year 10 skipped breakfast; 24 per cent also missed lunch the day before.

The proportion of young women skipping meals increased with age: almost two-thirds of 14- to 15-year-olds want to lose weight, and they adopt a series of methods in pursuit of a certain look.

Of Year Six girls and boys questioned, 40 per cent said that they consumed no protein "on most days". But around a quarter ate crisps, sweets or chocolate regularly.

Dr Laura Wyness, a senior scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "Popular media has a large influence on young people's body image, placing a great deal of pressure on obtaining the 'ideal' body shape. This often leads to young girls adopting unhealthy practices. These include smoking, skipping meals, especially breakfast, severely limiting foods perceived as fattening, such as red meat and dairy produce, which are important sources of protein, iron, zinc and calcium, and adopting very low energy, and therefore nutrient, diets."

Lizzie Pollard, 19, from Southampton, studies medicine at King's College, London. She was 12 when she developed an eating disorder. "For me it wasn't about self-image," she said. "It was a control thing. There's a lot of pressure on young people to look a certain way, but I think there's something very different between people dieting to look thin and an eating disorder."

She adds: "I was bullied, and felt very out of control, and wanted control.

"[Anorexia] is lonely. It took over my own life and takes everything away from you.... I was admitted to hospital when I was about 14. I hadn't eaten in four days. My heart was getting weaker and weaker and became too weak for me to move. I was put on permanent bed rest, and couldn't even get out to shower.

"After that I was in an in-patient hospital for six, seven months, and then I was supported by my local NHS community team, in Southampton."

Ms Pollard also said: "I think it's important that there are always people they can talk to about this. There are messageboards, and family and friends. And keep focus on your future. The thing about anorexia is it strips everything away from you. You need to find value in who you are."

There are around 2.8 million teenage girls in the UK and around 2.7 million boys. Analysis of Department for Education statistics by the think tank Demos earlier this year revealed the extent to which self- esteem differs between teenage girls and boys. It concluded that a significantly higher proportion of girls aged 14 to 15 felt "worthless", "unhappy or depressed", or "low in confidence", compared with boys.

Meanwhile, children as young as 12 are drinking the equivalent of 19 glasses of wine a week, according to the Schools Health Education Unit, which found that 4 per cent of the 12- to 13-year-olds surveyed had drunk 28 or more units of alcohol in the past week.

Additional reporting by Paul Carsten

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links