A new survey out of the U.K. highlights a disturbing trend among young girls: From the age of 10, a significant proportion of girls are unhappy with their weight and want to shed pounds -- a proportion that grows significantly as they age.
According to the report, which was conducted and published by research organization Schools and Students Health Education Unit, about 40 percent of 10 and 11-year-old girls in the U.K. want to lose weight. That number rises to 54 percent for 12 and 13-year-old girls and to a stunning 63 percent among 14 and 15-year-olds.
After surveying more than 93,000 children and teens, researchers also found that girls' eating habits tend to worsen as they age. Older girls were found to consume fewer fresh fruits and vegetables than their younger counterparts, and were also more likely to skip meals.
Based on the survey results, boys were less concerned about their weight than female contemporaries. However, a significant number still expressed a dissatisfaction with their bodies. About a third of all 14 and 15-year-old boys, for example, said they wanted to lose weight.
Laura Sharp, a nutritionist for the Children's Food Trust, spoke to the Daily Mail about the survey's troubling findings:
What's particularly worrying is that girls and boys are skipping meals at a time when their bodies are changing fast and they're particularly in need of good nourishment. ... It's food for thought for schools ... to get creative with menus and the way we market food to young people at this age, to make sure they're getting the nutrition they need at this influential time in their development.
The Schools and Students Health Education Unit's survey manager, Angela Balding, added that the report could be useful for parents and people who work with kids, as it offers insight into the possible links between certain behaviors. For instance, there appears to be a correlation between getting sufficient sleep and having a healthy body image.
In a statement posted to the unit's website, she said that the more sleep girls aged 14 to 15 get, the less likely they are to desire weight loss and feel stress about being bullied in school.
"Those working with young people should find evidence here of areas that need further work[,] together with many examples of young peoples’ positive attitudes about healthy lifestyle choices," Balding's statement goes on to say.
Experts say that teens rarely eat a nutritionally sound diet and that parents should encourage their kids to eat breakfast and to consume healthy snacks. Parents are also urged to stock the fridge with healthy foods.
"Parents should keep fruit and cut vegetables or salad mix in an obvious place in the home or refrigerator to encourage teens to use these foods," said Jamie Stang, editor of the Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services. (Click here for more healthy diet tips for teens.)