Australian children experience body image issues long before they reach puberty, a new study has found.

The research reveals that children as young as eight feel dissatisfied with their bodies regardless of their body weight – whether they’re underweight, normal, or overweight – with two-in-five aspiring to be thinner than the average body size.



As the first national snapshot study beyond the area of adolescence or early adolescence, the report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) examined more than 4,000 children nationally at ages eight to nine and again at 10 to 11.

It found more than half of all interviewed children said they wanted to be thinner – with most 10 and 11-year-olds actively trying to control their weight – but it was the younger children who reported feeling most unhappy with their size.

According to Ben Edwards, executive manager of AIFS’ longitudinal study for Australian children, compared to 10 and 11 year olds, a large number of eight to nine-year-old boys and girls were dissatisfied with their body size with many children wanting to be thinner than average.

While the research highlights a worrying trend, Dr. Edwards said the encouraging news was that as the children grew older they developed a more accurate sense of their own body size, and so became a little more satisfied with what they have.

However, while the older children were more likely to be happier about their body image, the majority had still attempted to manage their weight in the previous 12 months – 61% of boys had taken steps to control their weight in the past year, compared to 56% of girls.

Dr. Edwards said that many boys were trying to add muscle mass, rather than decrease weight, unlike girls who were mostly concerned with losing weight.

If the dissatisfaction persists, it can cause psycho-social problems for the children.

Interestingly, Dr Edwards said the research did not suggest body image issues were the result of peer pressure, but said understanding the root of the problem was beyond the limits of the study.

The report suggests parents and teaches should be discussing these sorts of issues with their children.

“Having a discussion about children’s body image and how they feel about themselves is really important, particularly when we consider that one in four children are overweight,” Dr Edwards explained. “So having a discussion around the dinner table, being aware of that as a teacher is really important.”

Originally posted on the Daily Life.