toddler body image

Girls as young as three years of age are already worried about being fat and are emotionally invested in staying thin, a small study in the US has found.
In a study involving 55 children, California researchers have found that preschool-aged girls are already starting to embrace the concept of thin being ideal, LiveScience.com reported.

Researchers from Pepperdine University in Malibu looked at how strongly the girls idealised a slim body, by asking them to pair adjectives to pictures of three figures that were identical except in body type — thin, average and fat.

An average of 3.1 negative and 1.2 positive words — including "mean", "stupid", "ugly" and "no friends" — were used to describe the fat body type, while 1.2 negative and 2.7 positive words were used to describe the thin body.

The findings are cause for concern for parents and health professionals alike, with figures showing the pressure to be thin has been linked to eating disorders and depression, lead researcher Jennifer Harriger said, and having a negative view of larger people was no better.

"Weight-related teasing has also been linked to a variety of negative outcomes," Harriger said.

"Given that our society is currently dealing with an obesity epidemic, this is especially concerning."

Researchers also observed the girls playing games of Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land with the figurines modified into the three different body types. They observed that many of the girls did not want to play as the fat body type — to the extent that some of them even refused to touch the piece.

While studies of girls in this age group are limited, Harriger said the preliminary results of a replicated study in southern California showed similar results.

Harriger said she believed the next generation of women would be more concerned with body size than any previous generations.

"It is likely that body-size issues have increased in this population [over the past decade], because research suggests that they've increased in older children, adolescents and adults," Harriger said.

"Our society is obsessed with thinness and beauty."