15/02/2012 08:34 GMT | Updated 15/02/2012 09:08 GMT

Third Of Teenage Girls Skip Breakfast Renewing Concerns Over Body Image Education

Fresh concerns over school girls' eating habits have been raised after research revealed one in five are skipping lunch and one third miss breakfast.

One in seven youngsters are going without on a typical school day, figures released on Tuesday suggest. Girls aged 14 and 15 are described as the "worst offenders", with nearly a third (31%) of Year 10 girls questioned in the survey admitted they had not eaten that morning.

The number of teenage girls opting out of lunch has more than trebled since 1986, the era of curvy supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, et al, when the figure stood at 10%.

Other research conducted by the YMCA in 2011 showed approximately a third of adolescent boys (34%) and half of girls (49%) have dieted, while a Girl Guide survey revealed half of 14-16 year olds cited media influence as the main reason for dieting.

Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre For Eating Disorders (NCFED), said she believes children don't have lunch because "they believe that's how they can stay slim, it's no secret".

She told The Huffington Post UK: "Celebrity magazines just add to the problem with their comments about fatness having a bigger effect than seeing thin celebs.

"I have worked in schools for years and found they do all sorts of things even if they don't have an eating disorder - the ones who do it most commonly have mothers who make a big thing about dieting."

An fashion industry insider, who wanted to remain anonymous, agreed.

She told us it wasn't size zero runway models who gave children a complex about their weight, it was far closer to home.

"It's more to do with young people watching their mothers, and their eating habits, than reading high-end fashion magazines, as these aren't usually bought by young schoolchildren.

"If a parent is constantly on a diet, then this is bound to have an effect on the child's relationship with food."

Meanwhile, MP Jo Swinson wrote in a blog for HuffPost UK last year, there was an "urgent need to address this problem before it consumes a whole generation", following her request to the government to incorporate body image education into the classroom.

The research, published in a report by the Schools Health Education Unit (SHEU), questioned more than 83,000 10- to 15-year-olds in 2010 on a variety of topics, including what they eat for lunch and breakfast.

In addition, the SHEU found:

  • Almost one in five of the boys and girls surveyed skip breakfast
  • More young people said they order takeaways rather than going home for lunch (5.3% compared to 3%)
  • The SHEU suggests the numbers not eating at lunchtime has more than doubled over the past 25 years.

Professor Fergus Lowe of Bangor University is director of healthy eating programme Food Dudes and says the solution does not lie with educating children, but instead providing them with good role models.

"This is all about changing behavioural habits, not inundating children with information - they usually just ignore it.

"We have to influence children in the right way. What they see in the media can have a very bad effect, sportsmen promoting Walkers crisps, for example. Children think that's how sportsmen are successful, but in reality it is very different."