Even at a young age, many children are dissatisfied with their bodies. Body dissatisfaction, which involves negative thoughts and feelings about one's own body, can put kids at risk for disordered eating habits such as binge eating or using laxatives or vomiting to lose weight. Researchers from the University of Turku in Finland investigated whether weight during childhood affected a preteen's body satisfaction.
The study included 205 girls and 230 boys who'd been participating in a heart disease study and had height and weight measurements taken yearly since 7 months of age. At 8 years of age, the children were shown eight drawings that depicted children ranging in size from very thin to very overweight. The kids in the study noted which one of the figures looked the most like them. They also noted which figure they'd most like to look like.
The results? Eight-year-old girls tended to be more dissatisfied with their bodies than boys. The drawings they chose to represent their real and ideal sizes were significantly thinner than those chosen by the boys. Researchers also noted that weight gain during early childhood was linked to children's satisfaction with their bodies. Children who wished to be thinner at 8 years of age had been heavier than the other children between 7 months and 3 years of age. And compared to other children, children who wished to be thinner at 8 years of age also had gained weight more rapidly between 3 and 8 years of age.
What This Means to You: The results of this study indicate that concerns about body image can start well before puberty. During the early childhood years, kids may be aware of their bodies - and whether they're heavier than the societal ideal.
As a parent, you can help your child to develop a positive body image, even during the early childhood years. Helping your child make nutritious food choices and developing an active lifestyle is also a good way to support your child in maintaining or getting to a healthy weight. If you suspect your child may have a weight problem or a body image problem, talk to your child's doctor.
Source: Susanna Angle, MPsych; Soili Keskinen, DPsych; Helena Lapinleimu, MD, PhD; Hans Helenius, MSc; Paivi Raittinen, MD; Tapani Ronnemaa, MD, PhD; Olli Simell, MD, PhD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, June 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2005