Children as young as ten are making themselves vomit in order to lose weight and the problem is more common in boys than girls, according to a study of nearly 16,000 school pupils published online early, ahead of print publication, by the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
The findings have prompted researchers to issue a warning that self-induced vomiting is an early sign that children could develop eating disorders and serious psychological problems, such as binge eating and anorexia.
They also believe that self-induced vomiting can be tackled by making sure that children get enough sleep, eat breakfast every day, eat less fried food and night-time snacks and spend less time in front of a computer.
Thirteen per cent of the 8,673 girls and 7,043 boys who took part in the research admitted they made themselves sick to lose weight. But the figures were much higher in younger children, with 16% of 10-12 year-olds and 15% of 13-15 year-olds vomiting. The figures fell to 8% in 16-18 year-olds.
The study of 120 schools, carried out for Taiwan's Ministry of Education, also found that 16% of the boys made themselves sick, compared with 10% of the girls.
"Our study, which was part of a wider research project on health and growth, focused on children who said that they had tried to lose weight in the last year" says lead author Dr Yiing Mei Liou, Director of Clinical Practice of the School of Nursing at National Yang-Ming University, Taiwan.
"It showed that self-induced vomiting was most prevalent in adolescents who had a sedentary lifestyle, slept less and ate unhealthily.
"Obesity is a growing problem in industrialised countries and is an increasingly important medical, psychosocial and economic issue. It's estimated that obesity among children and teenagers has nearly tripled over the last three decades and international studies have revealed worrying trends.
"For example, a study by
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