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Underweight children an under-recognised problem

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith
child in class

13th May 2013 - Attention in recent years has focused on the health implications of the rising number of overweight and obese children in the UK. However, being underweight and malnourished is also a problem because it can weaken the immune system and leave children lacking in energy.

In this new study carried out at the University of Essex, the authors estimated the prevalence of underweight or 'thinness' in English schoolchildren for the first time since 1979.

'Alarming' results

This new research found one in 17 English children between the ages of nine and 16 was underweight. The findings are being presented at the European Congress on Obesity, Liverpool, by Dr Gavin Sandercock and Ayodele Ogunleye who told a press conference the results are 'quite alarming'.

The researchers gathered data on the stature and body mass of 9,614 mainly white schoolchildren between 2008-2012 as part of the East of England Healthy Heart Study. 47% were female.

The authors found that at the age of nine, one in 12 children was underweight and at age 16 years one in 17 was underweight. Prevalence of underweight children was lowest amongst black or black British children and highest amongst Asian or British Asian children.

Girls were more likely to be underweight than boys.

The authors say there are possible different reasons for their findings including rising food prices, poor diet and fear of being overweight or obese. Low muscle mass due to lack of exercise could also be an important factor.

Lack of awareness

The authors conclude childhood underweight maybe more prevalent than they first thought in the UK. They say recent finding suggests that half the doctors in England and Wales lack knowledge on how to measure for underweight in children, meaning that many cases would have gone unnoticed.

The authors believe the UK is obsessed with overweight and obese children but say being underweight may pose a much greater risk to health.

Ayodele Ogunleye says the important thing for children is a healthy balanced diet along with exercise.

Reviewed on May 13, 2013

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