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13-Year-Olds Distressed About Weight Gain

Update Date: Dec 17, 2013 10:22 AM EST

Weight gain is a problem for a large percentage of 13-year-olds. A new study reveals that three out of five 13-year-old girls and two out of five boys of the same age are worried about gaining weight or getting fat. The findings are worrying because children who engage in unhealthy weight-control strategies are more likely to become overweight or obese, according to researchers.

The latest study analyzed data of over 7,000 participants in the Children of the 90s study and found that girls were twice as likely as boys to be "extremely worried" of gaining weight or getting fat.

Researchers found that 34 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys were upset or distressedabout weight and shape.

Children were so worried about gaining weight that 53 percent of girls and 41 percent of boys avoided fatty foods. Twenty-six percent of girls and 14 percent of boys had limited their food intake in the previous three months. Twenty-seven percent of girls and twenty-three percent of boys had exercised to lose weight in the previous three months.

Some of the children in the study were so worried about weight gain they used laxatives or made themselves sick for weight loss.

The study revealed that children who were worried about their weight and engaged in unhealthy weight-control strategies had 40 percent increased odds of being overweight and 90 percent higher odds of being obese at age 15.

"We have found that behaviors typical of an eating disorder are more common in early adolescence than previously thought, and not just in girls but also in boys, and that they are associated with a range of social and psychological problems in the child," study author Dr. Nadia Micali, a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)clinician scientist, said in a news release.

"Most importantly, we found a connection with certain behaviors and higher weight two years later, which has important public health implications for the prevention of obesity," Micali added.

"We are far from being able to identify boys and girls who have unhealthy weight control behaviors and binge-eating early, but this is crucial to prevent full-blown eating disorders and other negative social and emotional problems," she concluded.

The findings are published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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