British teenage girls are the most overweight in Europe - and boys aren't much slimmer, study shows

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Teenagers in the UK are not growing as tall as those in European countries due to worse nutrition, new research has suggested.

While average heights in Britain have increased over 35 years, they have not kept the pace with those in other countries, according to a global study led by Imperial College London.

British men aged 19 were on average 5ft 9.4ins (176.3cm) in 1985, placing the country 28th on the global list.

While the average height among the group had grown by last year to 5ft 10ins (178.2cm), the country had fallen to 39th on the global list.

For women aged 19, the average height grew from 5ft 4ins (162.7cm) to 5ft 4.5ins (163.9cms) in the same period, dropping from 42nd to 49th on the global list.

Nations with the tallest 19-year-olds last year were found to be the Netherlands, Montenegro, Iceland and Denmark.  

While average heights in Britain had increased over 35 years, they have not kept the pace with those in other countries (file photo of a mother measuring her daughter)

Researchers blamed a lack of investment in nutrition of school-aged children for the gap in heights that has grown between Britain and other nations. 

Globally, between 19-year-olds in the world's tallest and shortest nations the gap was found to be 7.8ins (20cm) - equivalent to a eight-year growth gap for girls and a six-year growth gap for boys.

The study also found that UK teenage girls to be the most overweight in Europe, highlighting soaring childhood obesity shows.

Boys are not much slimmer, weighing more on average than youngsters in all major European countries including Spain, France, Germany and Italy.

Research led by Imperial College London looked at data on 65million children aged five to 19 in 200 countries.

On obesity, the UK ranked 43rd for girls and 63rd for boys.

The study, published yesterday in the Lancet, compared the average weights and heights of 19-year-olds.

On obesity, the UK ranked 43rd for girls and 63rd for boys

It showed girls have a higher average body mass index (BMI) – 23.8 – than any other country in Europe.

A BMI over 25 is considered overweight. Boys have an average BMI of 23.5, heavier than all but nine European countries including Cyprus, Bulgaria and Slovakia. 

However, teenagers in the UK are still slimmer than those in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

UK boys have gone from 28th tallest in 1985 to 39th, and girls from 42nd to 49th.

The researchers warned that huge variations in childhood nutrition, especially a lack of quality food, can lead to stunted growth and obesity. 

Lead author Dr Andrea Rodriguez Martinez, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: ‘Our findings should motivate policies that increase the availability and reduce the cost of nutritious foods, as this will help children grow taller without gaining excessive weight for their height.

‘These initiatives include food vouchers towards nutritious foods for low-income families, and free healthy school meal programmes which are particularly under threat during the pandemic.’

Lead author Dr Andrea Rodriguez Martinez suggested to increase the availability and reduce the cost of nutritious foods help children grow taller without gaining excessive weight

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The study lays bare the fact that, as far as children’s wellbeing is concerned, the UK is still in the Dark Ages.

‘In June, Boris Johnson vowed to halve child obesity rates by 2030 but his promise would appear to be more headline grabbing than substance.

 Nothing significant has been heard about [it] since.’

Last week, NHS figures revealed that record numbers of children are obese when they finish primary school.

More than a third of ten and 11-year-olds are overweight or obese – putting them at risk of health problems in later life – and experts fear the crisis will be even higher after the Covid lockdowns.

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance said: ‘Our environment is flooded with unhealthy food and drinks. 

'We need the Government to restrict junk food promotions of all kinds.’

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