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Drink-drug diet of girls who skip meals to stay thin

Sarah Harris, The Daily Mail, 7th June 2006

Last year, one in five 14 to 15-year-old girls admitted to drinking one or more spirit measures in the previous week

The unhealthy lifestyles of teenage girls who routinely skip meals, take drugs and drink and smoke too much have been exposed by an alarming new survey.

They are missing breakfast to lose weight while increasingly knocking back large quantities of spirits and experimenting with drugs such as cannabis.

The findings will horrify parents and worry health campaigners who fear these 'ladettes' are storing up serious problems for the future.

Excessive slimming can pave the way for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and experts warn that drinking and smoking too much increases the risks of certain cancers.

The Schools Health Education Unit, an independent research body, has surveyed the attitudes of more than 700,000 pupils in total on health related issues since 1977.

In the latest report, researchers questioned 17,743 pupils aged ten to 15 last year.

Almost six in ten of the 2,651 14 to 15-year-old girls surveyed admitted to wanting to lose weight. This was despite the fact that the majority did not need to and some were even underweight.

Thirty per cent admitted they had skipped breakfast and of that proportion, 36 per cent had nothing for lunch on the previous day either.

Their attitudes to alcohol were even more worrying, with girls regularly drinking wine, alcopops and spirits.

Since 1996, teenage girls have overtaken their male counterparts as the biggest spirit drinkers.

Last year, one in five (19 per cent) 14 to 15-year-old girls admitted to drinking one or more spirit measures in the previous week. This compared to 13 per cent in 1991.

For boys of this age range, the figures were 15 per cent in 2005 and 13 per cent in 1991.

Five per cent of teenage girls knocked back five or more spirits in a week, 24 per cent drank at least one alcopop and 19 per cent had had at least one glass of wine. Four per cent had five or more glasses of wine in a week.

Slightly more teenage girls had consumed some alcohol in a week - 42 per cent compared to 40 per cent of boys of a similar age. And eight per cent drunk more than recommended levels.

Among younger age groups, eight per cent of 10 to 11-year-old boys had had an alcoholic drink in the last week compared to six per cent of their female counterparts.

Smoking
Meanwhile teenage girls also smoked more than boys.

Ten per cent of 12-13-year-old girls had smoked in the last week along with 24 per cent of the older girls. The figures for boys were six per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

Some 13 per cent of the older girls smoked up to 25 cigarettes a week and four per cent had 66 or more.

About one in five of boys and girls aged 14-15 had tried at least one drug.

Cannabis was the most popular among both sexes, with 24 per cent of girls aged 14-15 admitting to having tried it compared to 21 per cent of boys.

Six per cent of 12 to 13-year-old boys and girls have taken Cannabis and up to 17 per cent of 14 to 15-year-olds have mixed alcohol and drugs on the same evening.

Teenage girls were also more likely to 'pop' pain-killers, some of which were for period pain. A proportion are believed to have been for stress-related headaches.

Dr David Regis, research manager of the Schools Health Education Unit, said that some girls could be getting into difficulty due to their lifestyles.

He said: 'Crash dieting and excess alcohol - if that's where they're going, then they will be storing up problems.

'If they're going to adopt this binge drinking culture of the current 18 to 24-year-olds, they're going to get into health problems later on.'

He added: 'To a certain extent, the girls are being precocious.

'They're probably mixing with older boys, they're looking at the behaviour of 18 to 24-year-olds and they're getting on with becoming like the generation above them.'

Other trends identified in the survey included nearly one in four 15-year-old boys saying they believed their friends carried weapons - often knives - for protection.

And the proportion of children not doing homework has risen since the 1990s.

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