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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 00:12 GMT
Girls 'eating less but more getting fat'
Teenage girls should do more exercise, say researchers
Teenage girls should do more exercise, say researchers
Teenage girls eat half as much as boys but increasing numbers are becoming overweight because they do too little exercise, say researchers.

Girls eat 55% fewer calories than boys, and modern teenagers have been shown to consume the lowest number of calories for 40 years.

Girls also eat 45% more fruit and vegetables than boys, who tend to choose fast food, such as sandwiches and pizza.

But increasing numbers are becoming overweight because they spend too much time on non-physical activities such as watching TV and playing computer games.

The study by the Sodexho Research Institute on Quality of Daily Life, looked at the differences between the eating habits of boys and girls aged five to 17.

Food facts
Boys eat 2,220 calories per day, girls eat 1,490
Boys spend twice as much on food as girls
65% want to eat like other children of the same gender
Boys spend more time on meals than girls
Children's dietician and nutritionist Maureen Strong told BBC News Online the low calorie intake of girls was worrying.

She said: "I think there's a degree of self-limitation for reasons of body image.

"We need a big push to encourage girls to carry on taking exercise during their teenage years so they don't have problems with their weight."

In the UK, Sodexho provides school meals to 650 state schools, 180 independent schools and 90 colleges and universities.

The study covered 11 countries across the world, and looked at 400 pieces of research and 5.7m statistics, compiled over 40 years.

Overweight children

Its findings support a King's Fund report which showed that between 1984 and 1994, the proportion of English girls who were overweight rose from 9.3 to 13.5%. In Scotland the increase was from 10.4 to 15.8%

The study concluded girls eat for psychological reasons and place less value on taste, but more on reducing their calorie intake.

Boys think taste is more important, and see food as fuel for their more active lifestyles.

Too little exercise

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey, published in September last year, revealed 40% of boys and 60% of girls spend less than one hour a day doing "moderately intense" exercise.

But most were aware that exercise was important for their future health - 96% of 13 and 14-year-olds said it was important.

One factor which has major influence on what children eat is the fact that 91% of children have control over their own diet, compared to 29% in 1960.

Mrs Strong, added: "The research indicates that boys are much better at matching food intake with physical activity and physiological need.

What they eat
Girls eat twice as much fruit, vegetables and dairy products
Boys eat three times as many sandwiches, four times more pizza and five times more cooked dishes

"The concern is that girls are reporting an exceptionally low calorie intake.

"Girls should be encouraged to raise their calorie intake at the same time as leading a more active lifestyle."

Mrs Strong said teenagers should be better educated about how to balance their diets.

The government is to produce nutritional standards for schools later this year in a bid to improve school meals.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Scotland
Obesity threat to child health
30 Nov 99 | Health
Children's diet better in 1950s
14 Dec 98 | Health
The young risk their health
22 Feb 00 | Scotland
Defusing Scotland's 'timebomb'
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