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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.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 31, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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Interesting how even though more boys were disatisfied with their body image than girls, the focus of the article still gravitated towards girls. I guess Canada is a lot like here.

Posted by: rmullen7 | August 31, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm actually very surprised by this study. I always thought rural people to be less superficial than urbanites. The urban kids are the ones who grow up to have multiple cosmetic surgeries. I'm not sure that I believe this study. Maybe the urban kids are just trained to say the right thing; they've all been taught that low self-esteem is a bad thing.

Posted by: forgetthis | August 31, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

My 11 year old son has had issues with his body image since about age 9 - particularly because schools now send home "health assessments" each year. His father is 6'5 and has been off of the BMI charts since birth - now my son faces the same issue.

I can't tell you how many times I've had the "your body is growing" conversation to **try** and help alleviate the anxiety he feels. My son is neither fat nor skinny and does what I consider they typical "grow out one year, grow up the next" but is frequently concerned with what the insurance industry and society says he should be.

I just try and help him by reminding him about healthy lifestyle choices (it's always better to choose the fruit & veggies over the cake & ice cream) and the important role his athletic activities play in keeping him healthy.

Posted by: yabooklady | August 31, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I have an 11-year-old girl who just started middle school (6th grade) and endured hip surgery this summer so cannot play soccer, which she loves, and has been forced to be relatively inactive due to post-surgical pain. How can I help her appreciate her body at a time like this when all the strikes are against her? It doesn't help that she's a bit on the heavier side and exercise was keeping her weight in check.

Posted by: bluestilton | August 31, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

What's hilarious is that on this page, with a topic about kids' weight and body image, is a McDonald's ad featuring whipped-cream-and-chocolate covered coffee and french fries.

Posted by: nobody12345 | August 31, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I am taller than the "average" female and when I was a child I was taller than the boys, too. When I reached puberty my body grew curves and in spite of being underweight for my height my peers called me fat. That label & the pain it caused me has stuck with me all of my life.

As another person posted I suspect there are many more children who have negative a self-image, but are already learning the "right" things to say to every question. It's sad to read that young people feel so uncomfortable with their bodies. What makes it worse is realizing that these children haven't gone through puberty yet. How are they going to feel about themselves then?

I hope that parents who read this will encourage their children to feel good in their own skin.

Posted by: csandifer | August 31, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Did the study look at household income at all? It seems like rural and less educated might tie to lower income and I could imagine that girls' satisfaction with their looks might be tied to whether they can afford what they perceive as the "right" clothes, a professional haircut, etc.

Posted by: MKDC | August 31, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

So many people don't realize what types of little things affect how our kids think about body image. My mom used to say things like "If I ever look like THAT, just shoot me" when we would see an overweight person. Or, "I feel so fat today" or "I need to lose some weight!"

With my own kids, I have always been very careful about my word choice, and when the subject of food choices, healthy eating, etc. comes up, I focus on being healthy and feeling good. Being strong, being able to do the sorts of things you want to do (soccer, dance, bike rides, etc.).

What really fries me is when all that is chucked out the window at school. It is bad enough that the girls (in grade school!) are evaluating their friends lunches. My daughter's classmates have said things like "Why aren't you having skim milk? That 2% milk is going to make you fat!" and other similar comments. But when the TEACHERS are making comments, it is out of control. My other daughter's KINDERGARTEN teacher mentioned in class that she would like to take a Jazzercise class so that she can "get skinny." So several times this summer my daughter brought up the subject and had many questions: Why does Ms. *** want to get skinny? Do I want to get skinny too? How do you get skinny? This list goes on. I would respond by saying, "I'm sure that Ms. *** really just meant that she wanted to feel healthier. Jazzercise works your heart and lungs and muscles and makes them strong and healthy."

So...yes, the kids need some education about body image, but more importantly, SO DO THE TEACHERS!

Posted by: VAMom3 | August 31, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

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