HEALTH experts have said they are seriously concerned that children who are underweight could end up with lasting health problems.

Dr Tom Smith, the Lancashire Telegraph’s health expert, and Professor Nicola Lowe, who specialises in nutritional sciences at the University of Central Lancashire, said children could be losing out on vital nutrients affecting their development.

And Dr Javid Iqbal, clinical director for paediatrics at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said not eating enough could lead to serious health problems for children.

The doctor said these included anaemia and a vitamin D deficiency, which can cause rickets.

Other implications could be that brain development is impaired and children’s ability to keep going at a normal level of activity halted.

Dr Smith said: “There is plenty of evidence to show being underweight does damage development of the brain.

“Children are coming to school without breakfast and are starving until lunchtime.

“It is not only that they are not learning properly, but their brains are not developing.

“If children are starving over long periods of time, then they will lose a substantial amount of intellect.”

He said this was due to the nerves in the brain losing the fatty layer that covers them.

If children lose this fat, the nerves lose the protection and they stop working. Dr Smith said: “That can be a permanent effect.

“A lot of these children will therefore not have enough knowledge or intellect to have really skilled jobs.

“They will be in semi or unskilled jobs and there are not so many of them.

“It is terrible that in the 21st century in Britain we have got starving kids.

“It is absolutely appalling.

“To hear that we have got underweight kids is just disgraceful.”

Dr Lowe, who is also co-director of the International Institute of Nutritional Science and Food Safety Studies at UClan, said if children were not eating enough they might not reach their full potential.

She said: “If children are underweight, their calorie intake is low which means that their food intake is too low.

“My biggest concern would be around micro nutrients.

“They are important for lots of different functions in the body, but cognitive development is one example.”

Micro nutrients include iron and zinc, and a low intake of these can mean children ‘do not reach their full intellectual potential’.

Dr Lowe said other nutrients which could be lacking included calcium and vitamin D.

She said: “These are important for growth.

“Children’s needs are greater than a fully grown person.

“Calcium and vitamin D deficiency can result in rickets.

“Children who are underweight are already starting on the back foot.

“The problems can carry on through college and employment.”

Dr Lowe said children should be eating a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, protein, a small amount of fat and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

She said: “They need good quality protein, low fat meat and fish and calcium.

“It is about a good quality diet rather than just more calories.

“Clearly drinking fizzy drinks or foods high in saturated fat is going to increase the calorie intake for children, but you are still not addressing the issue of micro nutrients.”