Three in 10 girls (29 percent) cut back on dairy or red meat in the last year – with many believing it’s not good for their health (37 percent) or will make them put on weight (18 percent).
The news follows a study of 9 million GP records published in the Lancet which shows a dramatic rise in the number of children and young people in the UK with eating disorders between 2020 and 2022
And comes after research from NHS Digital which suggested 60 percent of 17-19-year-olds and 13 percent of 11-16-year-olds has a probable eating disorder.
Some experts say children’s lack of control over their lives during lockdown measures was a behavioural trigger. Others say that a thin female beauty ideal portrayed in social and mass media is increasing body dissatisfaction.
The new research, which surveyed 505 girls aged from 13 to 17 and was carried out on behalf of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, has led to calls for social media to be better regulated to protect youngsters from unhealthy or fad diets.
It has led to demands that government public health messaging should not only focus on obesity prevention but also on the importance of a balanced diet and nutritional deficiencies.
READ MORE: Anorexic woman, 50, must not be force fed by NHS carers, judge rules
The Sunday Express has learnt that the government is currently in talks with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to change its public health strategy to include messaging on eating disorders as well as obesity prevention.
Dr Agnes Ayton, the Vice Chairman of the Faculty of Eating Disorders at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “This survey is of concern and consistent with other research which suggests weight loss and the social media industries are having a huge impact on young people. Humans are omnivores; it is difficult to get the range of nutrients in a vegan diet.
All of us are vulnerable to social media messages about diet and body image but young people are particularly vulnerable and we need to protect them.
The social media industry has to be better regulated for harmful messaging.”
She added: “The government has put a lot of emphasis on weight loss messaging since the emergence of the obesity epidemic and in the media we are bombarded with messages about diets.
“However we need to make sure this is nuanced because the rate of disordered eating is going up. Figures suggest almost two-thirds of women between 16 and 25 are screening positive for an eating disorder.
“The government should align its eating disorder and obesity prevention policies – it cannot be one or the other, it needs to be both.”
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According to a recent Lancet study of GP records, 2, ventolin expectorant mechanism of action 700 diagnoses of eating disorders were anticipated among 13-16-year-olds, but 3,862 were actually observed – 42 percent more than the expected figure. Among 17-19-year-olds eating disorders also rose above expectations.
During the pandemic, prolonged access to social media, more focus on body image and less face-to-face contact may have led to feelings of low self-esteem and psychological distress, particularly among adolescent girls, the study said.
Former England footballer and Lioness Anita Asante is campaigning for youngsters to be better educated on a balanced diet that includes meat and dairy. “Without ample fuel before a big game, I wouldn’t stand a chance at performing optimally on the pitch – both physically and mentally. Eating a balanced diet is critical in sport.”
Nutritionist Emma Bardwell, who specialises in women’s health said: “There is a trend on social media such as TikTok to adopt faddy diets and as a result many young girls are moving away from animal products and replacing them with plant-based products.
“Many are not replacing crucial nutrients such as iron and B12 and healthy fats and increasingly these teens are at risk of or undernourished.”
She added: “If girls don’t get enough energy their periods can stop. This can massively impact their bone health and possibly lead to osteoporosis in later life. Fasting is a huge issue and one that’s getting lots of airtime on social media. When done to excess it can lead to bone loss.”
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