ALARMING numbers of Australian teenagers are focused on losing weight, with some resorting to taking laxatives and vomiting.

A national study of 14 to 15-year-olds found many kids were skipping meals or not eating anything all day to drop kilos, yet a large percentage were not overweight.

The Growing Up In Australia Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, which has researched 10,000 families, has highlighted that more than half of the girls in the study were afraid of gaining weight and 43 per cent felt they had lost control of their eating.

This compared to 20 per cent of boys.

The report puts a spotlight on how negative attitudes and problematic eating behaviours in adolescence can represent a risk for the later development of eating disorders.

"Overall, around 38 per cent of girls in the study said they felt they were overweight, compared to 20 per cent of boys who more commonly felt they were underweight," Australian Institute of Family Studies Director Anne Hollonds said.

The Institute's Dr Galina Daraganova said that along with expressing negative feelings about their weight, some teenagers also took serious actions to try and control it.

"Three per cent of the girls and 1 per cent of the boys had made themselves vomit at least once in the last four weeks to control their weight and about 2 per cent of boys and girls had taken some type of medicine, such as laxatives or appetite suppressants," she said.

More and more teenagers are focused on losing weight and some are turning to extreme measures despite them being perfectly healthy.
More and more teenagers are focused on losing weight and some are turning to extreme measures despite them being perfectly healthy.

But most teens turned to exercise, with 58 per cent reporting exercising in the previous month specifically to control weight.

"Close to a quarter of girls and 12 per cent of boys also reported restricting their food intake by leaving food at mealtimes, taking small helpings, skipping meals or going all day without eating at least once in the last four weeks," Dr Daraganova said.

In the group that were dieting, only around half of the boys and a third of the girls were actually overweight, according to their Body Mass Index (BMI).

"This suggests that for most teens, and particularly for girls, the aim of their dieting is to either maintain their weight within a healthy weight range or achieve a thinner body shape," she said.

"For some who were dieting, their desire to lose weight traces back to childhood. The proportion of those who were dieting at 14-15 was higher among those who had also been trying to lose weight at 10-11 and 12-13 years, than those who had not," the doctor said.