Kids battling body image at eight
CHILDREN as young as eight are suffering from body image issues that could have serious and long-term health consequences, startling new research has found.
A study released today by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute has discovered a link between hormone levels and body satisfaction in prepubescent children for the first time.
"What we've learnt is that prepubescent children as young as eight and nine are vulnerable to poor body image and the dissatisfaction appears to be linked to hormone levels associated with the onset of puberty," lead author Dr Elizabeth Hughes said.
"Basically, the higher the level of hormones, the unhappier the children were with their body size."
More than 1100 eight and nine-year-old boys and girls from Melbourne were involved in the study, which analysed their hormones and assessed body image perceptions.
Body dissatisfaction was measured using a tool that displayed silhouettes of different physical shapes, ranging from very thin to very obese.
Dr Hughes said the findings highlight the need for community and school-based education programs about healthy body image before the onset of puberty.
Kids Matter is an Australian not-for-profit group that provides information resources to parents and schools about a range of issues affecting children. It warns that negative body image puts young people at "an increased risk for developing unhealthy attitudes to eating and issues with dieting, as well as low mood".
"Evidence suggests that low self-worth and body dissatisfaction might play a role in the development of serious mental health issues like depression and eating disorders in adolescence and beyond," it said.
While the new research links hormones and body image, earlier studies have found that social media can play a major role as well.
Professor Susan Paxton from La Trobe University's School of Psychology and Public Health said online platforms can damage body image.
"Social media can be toxic for body image," she said.
"It is highly visual and interactive, and appearance is central to success. Collecting likes and followers provides an immediate marker of achievement and popularity. These feed directly into users' sense of self-worth."
A study in the US in 2015 found children as young as five were developing concerns about body image, expressing a desire to be thinner and more attractive.
Seeta Pai, vice president of research for Common Sense Media, told CNN that the focus on promoting healthy body image was typically targeted at teenagers, and should be brought forward.
"(Younger children) already know about dieting and some might have even tried it out or restricted their food intake at certain times, so that's pretty alarming," Ms Pai said.
"It's almost like things are a little too late if you are going to wait all the way until teenage years to talk to kids about body image."
Kids Matter also encourages the earlier introduction of programs tackling body image, saying primary schools and even early childhood institutions should be involved.
"Children are already developing ideas about body image. Research suggests that girls as young as five who are exposed to music videos or women's magazines are more likely to be aware of diet practices and cultural pressures to be thin.
"Concerns about personal appearance seem to emerge around the age of six or seven years old."