Four in ten girls aged 11 to 15 feel guilty about what they eat – and many are on and off diets.
So says a new study from retail analysts Mintel.
It also reveals that girls are more likely than boys to eat for emotional reasons – to cope with stressful situations or unhappiness, for example. Figures from the study show that 34 per cent of girls eat when they are sad, compared with 21 per cent of boys.
'Feeling guilty about eating is more common among girls,' Michelle Strutton of Mintel has said. ' This likely reflects the general higher pressure that women put themselves under in terms of their weight and appearance.
'It is well-debated about the media pressure on women to look good – airbrushing and so on – and this causes anxiety over looks, possibly not helped by girls wanting to look like Cheryl Cole.'
The study found that children are shaped by the food parents offer them when very young. Those raised on nuggets, chips, fishfingers and burgers are unlikely to drop their established favourites for healthy alternatives.
16 per cent of girls said they had a friend who suffered from extreme weight loss. The study concluded: 'There is a risk of teenagers becoming unduly anxious, guilty or self-conscious.'
The study highlights the growing theory that Brits have an increasingly dysfunctional relationship with food. Three in ten children – equivalent to around 3.47 million – are now defined as obese or overweight, and new figures sugest that this increase has led to an increase in girls reaching puberty at a younger age – some as young as seven.