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One in three girls fears for her health at age 15

Girls may be stretching ahead in exam performance in Scotland but by their teenage years many are unfit and seriously concerned about their health.

One in three 15-year-old girls rates their health as poor or fair.

The only comfort from the World Health Organisation-led study of the health behaviour of school-age children is that girls' negative self-perceptions are common across the western world.

In Scotland, 15.9 per cent of boys at age 15 and 31.5 per cent of girls say they are unhealthy. That gender gap is evident across all 35 countries involved in the study. But Scottish girls and boys are by no means the most concerned. Returns from England and Wales are more worrying.

The findings from the Scottish end of the study, released last week by Dr Candace Currie of Edinburgh University, show that more girls than boys are generally unhappy at ages 11, 13 and 15. Only around one in 10 overall say they are unhappy. Most are either happy or quite happy.

Schooling plays a part in those views, according to the researchers. Among 11, 13 and 15-year-olds, 23.9 per cent liked school a lot. At age 11, 38.2 per cent of girls and 29.2 per cent of boys reported liking school a lot compared with 12.7 per cent of girls and 14.7 per cent of boys at age 15.

Perceptions of their friends also fall as they grow older, with more negative views about how they get on with their peers. Only 19 per cent of boys and 17.8 per cent of girls are very positive about their peers by the age of 15.

Girls' difficulties as they grow up are compounded by their negative views of physical activity. Only 23.5 per cent at age 15 meet recommended standards of daily activity, against nearly 39 per cent of boys.

The international survey confirms the trends. Around one third of girls across the countries and a fifth of boys think they are too fat. Among 15-year-olds, 23 per cent of girls and 7 per cent of boys are dieting or doing something else to lose weight. Many eat too little fruit and vegetables and reduce their intake as they grow up.

The most alarming statistic involving Scotland is the rate of consumption of sugary, fizzy drinks. Only Israel is ahead out of all the western nations.

The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, WHO Collaborative Cross-National Study is based on evidence gathered in 2001-2002. Full results are on the HBSC website.

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