More than six out of ten 14- to 15-year-old girls say that they would like to lose weight although only 15 per cent did actually weigh too much for their weight and height.
Boys of the same age had a more realistic attitude. Just over a quarter said they would like to lose weight; just under one in five were overweight.
Girls are skipping meals to try to lose weight and by the time they are 15 more than three out of ten girls are missing breakfast and one in seven is having no lunch.
The evidence comes from a survey carried out amongst school-age children by the Schools Health Education Unit.
"If concern about real or imagined excess weight led to participation in active pursuits this could be a beneficial spin-off," the survey says. "However, other data provided by the questionnaire survey show that girls tend to be even less physically active than boys."
When they do eat, girls make more of an effort to maintain a healthy diet.
The British Dietetic Association said the data raised serious concerns about the health of teenage girls. "From these figures, it would seem that girls skimping meals to lose weight is getting worse," said their spokeswoman, Lyndel Costain. Only a small percentage of girls developed severe eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, she said - 1 per cent or 2 per cent, compared to the 60 per cent or 70 per cent who dieted.
"But there is a bigger group of girls who may nevertheless be putting their health at risk by skimping meals in this way," she added.Reuse content