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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Five-year-old girls 'weight conscious'
Young children are conscious of what they eat
Girls as young as five are conscious about their weight and think about dieting, says a nutrition expert.

Professor Leann Birch, of Pennsylvania State University, has warned that even young children are not immune to the pressure on females to be slim.

She told a conference on child nutrition in Glasgow that environmental factors played a much more major impact on childhood obesity than genetics.

Girls have more concerns than boys about being thin

Professor Leann Birch, Pennsylvania State University

Speaking at the Update on Childhood Nutrition Conference in Glasgow, Professor Birch said parents should not put pressure on their children to eat certain foods.

Professor Birch found boys and girls have different attitudes to their weight and what they eat.

She said: "Girls have more concerns than boys about being thin and they are also more vulnerable to chronic dieting and binge eating in later life.

"Of all the girls who said they were knowledgeable about dieting, virtually all of them were aware of it as their mothers were on some form of diet."

Professor Birch said parents should persist in feeding their children healthy foods which they might initially appear to dislike.

No junk food

She said junk food should be avoided.

She said: "What children want to eat is at variance with what their parents want them to eat.

"However, parents should be patient and not just assume that because a child rejects something one day that they will never like it.

"Children can only learn to prefer certain foods if they are made available to them.

"Similarly, parents should not restrict children's access to foods they believe to be unhealthy as this has the opposite effect.

"We have shown that it actually increases the child's intake of restricted food."

Obesity rates among children in the US have doubled in the past decade.

Professor Birch warned that a similar situation could easily occur in the UK.

She said: "Childhood obesity is a huge problem in America with around 25% overweight.

"In Britain the comparative figure is around 15% and it appears to be catching up with the US."

She said obese children usually had diets that were too high in fat, and too low in fruit and vegetables.

Obesity leads to a range of health problems such as diabetes, kidney damage, poor vision and bad circulation.

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See also:

10 Aug 00 | Health
Breakthrough in obesity study
10 Jul 00 | Health
Warning over UK obesity levels
14 Dec 98 | Health
The young risk their health
01 Jun 00 | Health
Children 'eating themselves ill'
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