Starvation diets of schoolgirls striving for supermodel size

Daily Mail

July 25, 2007

Research into the lifestyles of 70,000 schoolchildren shows the extent to which girls are risking their health in search of an impossible dream.

Forty per cent of 14 and 15-year-old girls had either nothing or just a drink for breakfast. Many also went without lunch.

More than half believed they needed to slim, even though only 12 per cent were overweight according to their body mass index.

The findings emerge in an annual nationwide study of children aged ten to 15 conducted by the Schools Health Education Unit.

It found that girls' biggest worry is their appearance - cited by half of 12 to 15-year-olds.

But even younger girls also admit to angst over their body image. One in four aged ten and 11 report worrying about the way they look 'quite a lot' and 'a lot'.

Increasing numbers of older girls also believe they are unfit. Twenty per cent considered themselves out of shape, against just half that figure in 1991.

Dr David Regis, research manager at the SHEU, said in-depth interviews with participants suggested media images of superslim celebrities and models such as Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and Nicole Richie fuelled the obsession with weight.

"Dissatisfaction with their bodies often seems to originate from, or is certainly accentuated by, celebrity culture and the print media and magazines," he said.

"These young women are very aware of pressures from the media around body image and appearance.

"They are able to discuss these magazines critically and say they should not be showing an inappropriate range of unusually thin women, but they do still feel the pressure to be thinner.

"There is a tension in their attitudes - yes, they criticise some celebrities for being too thin, but will still want to be like them."

He added: "There are so few women in modelling, films and fashion who have got anything like a normal distribution of weight.

"I'm not saying people like Kate Moss shouldn't model, but can't there be some other people as well?"

More than a quarter of 14 and 15-year-old girls questioned had nothing at all for breakfast, while a further 13 per cent just had a drink.

Of those who skipped breakfast, 25 per cent had eaten nothing for lunch the previous day.

Boys are also skipping meals, particularly breakfast, with around one in five not bothering with a morning meal.

Researchers speculate this may be down to 'domestic chaos', rather than a desire to slim.

However, appearance was an issue for boys.

While they may be eating less, children are eating healthier food, the study found.

The number of youngsters regularly eating crisps and chips has declined sharply.

Another recent study suggested older schoolchildren were shunning Jamie Oliver's healthy eating advice and sneaking out at lunch time to buy takeaways.

But the latest findings reveal how only 16 per cent of teenagers eat chips "on most days" - down from almost 30 per cent in 2000.

Crisp consumption has fallen from 56 per cent in 1999 to 30 per cent last year, according to the report Young People into 2007.

"I would be amazed if all that energy and effort on the part of Jamie Oliver and others before and after his inititiative has had no effect at all," said Dr Regis.

The survey paints a picture of teenagers increasingly living with single parents or step families. It also suggests levels of drug-taking and smoking are stable if not declining, although pupils are becoming more 'complacent' about the safety of cannabis.

Teenage girls are drinking more than their male counterparts, while teenage boys are more likely to report their friends carry knives or other weapons.

TV viewing is still the most common evening pastime, but computer games and surfing the internet are catching up.

Significant numbers of boys use the Internet without adult supervision and spend more than three hours a night playing computer games.

Dr Regis added: "This research shows teenagers have complex, changing lives.

"Smoking and drug-taking is down, but it is worrying that while overall alcohol consumption is down, some youngsters are drinking more and getting drunk regularly.

"Parents need to recognise negative factors in their own children and help them early on."

Just under two-thirds of pupils aged 12 to 15 live with both parents - down from three-quarters in 1990.

Almost 18 per cent live in single-parent households with their mother while 2 per cent are with their father.

A further 13 per cent live with a parent and a step-parent, while the remainder are in care or with foster parents.

The figures starkly illustrate the impact of rising divorce rates - and break-ups of unmarried couples - on family structures. In 1990, 75 per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds lived with both parents. The figure now is 63 per cent.
One in five youngsters in their early teens admits smoking cannabis.

The figures for boys and girls are almost the same, at 19 per cent and 18 per cent respectively.

More than half - 54 per cent - said they knew someone who used drugs, raising concerns about their access to illicit substances. Fourteen per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds had taken drugs and alcohol at the same time.

There were signs that pupils are experimenting earlier. Four per cent of boys of 12 and 13 and 3 per cent of girls had tried cannabis.
One in five boys in their early teens said they were 'fairly sure' or 'certain' their friends carried weapons for protection.

They were mostly knives but also included bats, coshes and weighted straps. The finding will fuel fears over the country's knife culture in the wake of a series of killings.

Dr Regis said: "We have noted that some young people may feel threatened and want to travel with a knife.

"But however much you sympathise with the feeling, it is that willingness to carry a knife everywhere that leads to incidents happening."