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Five-year-old girls worried about weight, obesity conference told

AFP | September 3, 2006

Girls as young as five are sensitive about their bodies in a "weight-hostile" environment that equates popularity and attractiveness with thinness, an international conference of experts has heard.

And the problems continue through to adult life, where overweight women are at increased risk of depression, the 10th International Congress on Obesity was told.

"Children are sensitive at an increasingly early age to their physical appearance," said Leeds University professor Andrew Hill.

"The impact of being overweight on girls' self-confidence has been detected in children as young as five years.

"Psychological factors such as perceptions of one's attractiveness, physical ability and self-esteem can be improved with even a modest weight loss," he told more than 2,000 delegates to the congress, which is held every four years.

Adult women were also affected psychologically by being overweight, said Deakin University researcher Kylie Ball.

New findings from a major study of women's health in Australia showed that physical inactivity and high body weight in adults were independent predictors of depressive symptoms three years later.

"In other words, the study showed that women who were overweight or obese -- regardless of how much activity they did -- were at increased risk of depressive symptoms three years on," Ball said.

"Women who were physically inactive also had an increased risk of depressive symptoms when surveyed three years later."

The Women's Health Australia project had also shown that obesity may have lasting effects on young women's life satisfaction.

Obese women were less likely to aspire to higher education and were more dissatisfied with work, relationships and social activities than women in a healthy weight range, the study of 7,800 women showed.

"These results have implications for the content of weight-loss programs," Ball said.

"There is a need to address the adverse psychological consequences of high weight gain and help people to be more accepting of their weight and themselves, while assisting them to achieve their goal weight."

The congress, which runs until Friday, is seeking practical methods of combatting what chairman Paul Zimmet called "this insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity now engulfing the entire world".

Obesity is the greatest single contributor to chronic disease and the world now has more fat people than hungry ones, according to World Health Organisation figures.

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