Parents and teachers are being urged to be mindful of their eating habits and comments they make about body image in front of their children after a government report found body dissatisfaction in children as young as eight.
At least two in five children aged 8-11 desired a thinner than average body size, the study of more than 4,000 children by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found.
Children were surveyed about their attitudes towards their body and their desired body size at age 8-9, and again at 10-11. Their mothers also answered questions about their child’s eating habits.
By age 10-11, most children reported trying to control their weight. Among underweight children, 16% of girls and 11% of boys wanted to be even thinner than they were, and half wanted to stay underweight.
Of the boys and girls who were dissatisfied with their body, the proportion of mothers who were concerned about their child eating too much or unhealthy food was greater among boys than girls, at 55% and 49% respectively.
The largest eating disorders charity in Australia, the Butterfly Foundation, said the findings highlighted the importance of parents in promoting self-esteem.
“We would encourage all parents to develop positive body image and a healthy relationship with food and exercise in order to be positive role models for their children and their teenagers,” foundation chief executive Christine Morgan said.
In addition, anti obesity campaigns being rolled out in schools may also be of concern.
“The impact of health campaign messaging about child obesity, and the messages they receive from multiple sources every day about ideal body shape and size, is clearly producing an unintended consequence.”
This has long been a concern for eating disorder specialists who have expressed concern over the ‘norm’ of dieting and weight concern. Dr. Bryony Bamford of The London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image states ‘The governments campaigns to tackle obesity in school age children could be considered a risk to those who may be susceptible to developing eating disorders.