Body dissatisfaction and a desire to be thin are so prevalent in young girls that these are recognized as a “normative discontent”. Adolescents, especially females, are bombarded with messages from the media about thinness, images of so-called beauty, and ways to achieve a lower body weight. These images, combined with a society that places a high value on physical beauty, send mixed messages to teenagers and may result in unhealthy, frequently unnecessary attempts to lose weight. Peers, as well as parents, can influence a child’s body image, body dissatisfaction, and eating or dieting habits. The primary aim of this investigation was to assess differences in body image and dieting concerns in preadolescent boys and girls across the body-weight spectrum.
Our research question: Do girls express more concern with body size, do they report more dieting, and do they receive more advice than boys regarding dieting?
565 preadolescent children who were enrolled in the SAGE study took part in this research. 10 and 11 year old children completed questionnaires focused on weight, dieting, and body image concerns. Height and weight were also measured. Of the 565 children, 15.8% were obese and 17.5% were overweight.
Findings: Overall, 39% of the 565 preadolescent children in this sample wanted to be thinner. This latter finding reinforces other reports that children in this age group, especially girls, desire a body size that is smaller than their current one.
Boys perceived themselves to be larger, and they were more concerned than girls about weighing too little.
Approximately 25% of the children reported receiving frequent advice from mothers, fathers, or friends about weight, exercise, and/or food restriction. Contrary to our research question, girls did not report this more often.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that weight is an important concern for 10 and 11 year old boys and girls. Educational programs and interventions for children, parents, and others who work with children should focus on overall health by encouraging healthful eating and activity patterns, body acceptance, and family involvement, rather than directly on body weight. Parents, caregivers, and children’s peers should be aware that their comments may play a role in a child’s body image. Education promoting body acceptance, a healthy body image, and healthy lifestyles for this age group may encourage healthy habits and beliefs before adolescence. Further research is needed to understand what dieting means to young children.
Body image and dieting attitudes among preadolescents. Bernier CD, Kozyrskyj AL, Benoit C,
, Marchessault G. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2010 Fall;71(3):122 Becker AB