Body image a worry - even when you're only 5!

Researchers at Adelaide's Flinders University have found that girls as young as six are already worrying about their weight and thinking about diets.

At five years of age girls seem relatively unconcerned about their weight, by the time they turn six or seven, body image is all important and as many as 47 per cent want to be thinner. By the time girls are in grade two, more than 71 per cent want to be slimmer, says researcher Hayley Dohnt.

When she asked children about their awareness of dieting etc, "she should go off to Jenny Craig", was one comment from a five year old girl. It is a cause for some concern that at aged 5 they are aware that you go to Jenny Craig to lose weight.

81 interviews were conducted with 81 primary school aged girls, each interview lasting 10 to 15 minutes.

The study, a preliminary look at the attitudes of young girls, shows that body image becomes an issue well before the usually accepted theory of a girl's transition to high school, after the age of 12 or 13. Peer pressure and media images are a big influence on young girls.

Parents need to be aware of the messages they often unwittingly give to their children, children are very receptive to these messages and particularly to media pressure on what is beautiful.

Dr Michael Kohn from the Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney says he is seeing younger and younger patients with eating disorders and it's boys and girls in the pre-teen group saying they want to be thin, and are doing activities to control and lose weight. But he says parents need not be too alarmed by this report, "Although it clearly identifies suspicions, certainly over the last 50 years, of an increasing number of young people at younger ages presenting with eating disorders, I think it's a shot over the bows".

Kohn admits the sample size is small, but she says the study is an important first step in preventing disorders down the track and does suggest that young children are potentially facing body dissatisfaction, intervention programs in school could help prevent many eating disorders and self-esteem issues later on.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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