Kids, Weight and Body Image
Research posted last Wednesday in the online journal BMC Public Health reports that when 4,254 Canadian kids ages 10 and 11 were asked to indicate how much they agreed with the simple statement "I like the way I look," 7.3 percent of the girls and 7.8 percent of the boys didn't agree at all.
For girls in the study, body mass index (BMI) was directly linked to body satisfaction: The more overweight the girl, the less she liked the way she looked. The unhappiest boys, though, were those who were either the most overweight or the most underweight: They didn't like being fat, but they didn't want to be too skinny, either.
The study's authors admit that because their sample was almost entirely white, their findings might not apply broadly across more diverse populations. But one pattern they found might provide insight that could be used to develop ways to work kids through their body-image issues: Rural girls and girls whose parents weren't well educated were particularly likely to say they weren't happy with the way they looked, regardless of their BMI. The researchers suggest that perhaps there's more pressure to look good among rural kids, or perhaps urban kids already benefit from existing programs that help them manage their body-image issues.
The authors suggest that, since school-based programs have been shown to help kids grapple with their body satisfaction, the new research highlights a need to start such programs early -- and to make them available in rural areas, where they appear to be needed most.
As the parent of a teenaged girl, I know that self-esteem takes a beating in the adolescent years. That's part of growing up. But the thought of asking a 10-year-old whether she likes the way she looks and having her answer "No" makes me very sad.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
August 31, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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