New Study Suggests That Poor Body Image Starts as Young as 8 Years Old

We hear a lot about body image issues in tweens and teens. As kids get older and their social landscape changes, they’re exposed to ideas and behaviors that can greatly impact their self-esteem. These ideas and behaviors can follow us into adulthood, as well. But a new study is drawing attention the problems kids face at even younger ages, and the data is really disheartening. Researchers at the University of Melbourne have found that poor body image can start in kids as young as 8 and 9 years old.

Researchers found a link between poor body image and the onset of puberty and hormones.

The study is based on data collected from 1,100 girls and boys in Melbourne, Australia. The kids involved in the study were all between 8 and 9 years old. Their body image was measured using a tool called the Kids’ Eating Disorder scale (KEDS) body image silhouettes. The tool is made up of eight illustrated silhouettes of children, with bodies ranging from very thin to very overweight. There are two different sets, male and female.

Kids were asked to identify which silhouette most resembled them now. Then, they were then asked to identify which silhouette was their “ideal” body type.

Each silhouette was scored. Researchers then subtracted the ideal rating from the self-rating to get the child’s body satisfaction score. Overall, the data showed that girls tended to suffer from poor body image more frequently. However, researchers also found that boys with higher hormone levels felt similar dissatisfaction with their bodies.

Dr. Elizabeth Hughes is a research fellow at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the lead author on the study. Dr. Hughes says, “What we have learnt is that pre-pubescent children, as young as eight and nine, are vulnerable to poor body image and the dissatisfaction does appear to be linked to hormone levels associated with the onset of puberty.” She continues, “Basically the higher the level of hormones, the more unhappy the children were with their body size; however children with heightened levels of hormones also tend to be taller and heavier than their peers, and this could be the cause of their poor body image.”

Adolescence is such a difficult time for our kids. It’s so important that we constantly reinforce that they’re amazing, strong young people. We’re fighting hormones, social pressures and influences, and our own demons. Nevertheless, they’re depending on us to keep them buoyed during these trying stages.

(Image: iStock / Maya23K)

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