Children's HealthEating Disorders

The girls living on just one meal a day

This was a pretty sobering news story in the press in October. The Exeter based Schools Health Education Unit surveyed 32,000 10-15 year olds. That’s a significant sized study.

26% of girls aged 14-15 admitted eating nothing for breakfast (the most important meal of the day). 20% of 12-13 year old girls had also skipped breakfast.

22% of girls aged 14-15 and 14% of 12-13 years olds didn’t have lunch. The survey sensibly checked if the same group were missing breakfast AND lunch and found that 10% of 14-15 year olds did indeed have neither breakfast NOR lunch. How these girls can expect to perform well at school, with literally no food for their brains, is staggering. Girls also outperform boys at school at every age – think how much more they could excel if they ate enough to be able to concentrate, let alone think clearly!

The majority of teenage girls and 40% of 10-11 year olds thought that they needed to lose weight, whereas, only 10% of the 14-15 year old girls were overweight or obese. Hence there was a clear mismatch between those who did need to lose weight (1 in 10) and those who thought they needed to lose weight (nearly 6 out of 10 teenage girls).

I developed anorexia as a 15 year old and it was far too easy a progression from a bit of teasing, discovering calorie counting, losing weight (as everyone does on their first starvation experiment) and then suddenly you think – why not skip breakfast? surely I don’t need lunch? and, before I realised what was happening, I was having one meal a day, 400 calories a day in total and in a seriously bad state. It is frighteningly easy to get caught up in the obsession of dieting and it is awful that so many of our teenage girls are in this trap already.

Parents and friends – the best advice is to lead by example and not to obsess about food ourselves. We can’t tell others to eat healthily and regularly if we don’t. There is such a fine line between helping a teenager who does have a weight problem (because this is highly likely to lead to obesity in adulthood) and developing a healthy attitude to food and weight in a young person of normal weight. It is a really difficult role for friends and parents to play, but we must try.

Come on girls – whatever happened to girl power and taking up the room to which we are entitled in this world? Surely Beyonce is a better role model than Posh Spice?! Boys – shout louder that you like a bit of meat on the bones. As Guy Ritchie allegedly said of Madonna – it’s no fun cuddling gristle! Please tell girls this – they don’t believe it and need to hear it again and again.