Study Suggests 'Poor Body Image' Starts As Young As 8-Years-Old

girl looking in mirror

Body image issues are something pretty much all of us have dealt with at one time or another. It's not uncommon for tweens, teens, and adults to have issues with their body image, self-worth, and self-esteem. These issues can stem from a variety of causes, from societal pressures to hormones. But a new study is highlighting just how prevalent body image issues can be in even young children. Research shows that kids as young as 8 or 9 suffer from poor body image, which is just so heartbreaking.

Dr Elizabeth Hughes is a research fellow from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and the University of Melbourne and was the lead author on the study that looked at the link between poor body image and hormones in prepubescent kids. Researchers collected data from more than 1,100 8- and 9-year-old girls and boys in Melbourne. They measured body satisfaction using a tool called the Kids' Eating Disorder scale (KEDS) body image silhouettes. This tool is made up of eight different silhouettes, with body types ranging from very thin to very overweight. There are different sets of silhouettes for boys and girls, and each silhouette has a score.

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Kids in the study were asked to choose the body silhouette that best represented what they looked like now (this was called self-rating). They were then asked to choose the silhouette that best represented their ideal body type (ideal rating). To calculate the body satisfaction score, researchers subtracted the ideal rating from the self-rating, which gave the child either a positive or a negative body satisfaction score.

girl looks in mirror
Credit: iStock / Sharlotta

By and large, the girls in the study expressed more negative body image feelings, and had the lowest body satisfaction scores. They had poorer body image than the boys in the study. However, boys with higher hormone levels also exhibited poor body image (adrenal androgens were measured through saliva). It really does start so early, and as kids get closer to puberty and their bodies start to produce more hormones, there appears to be a strong association with poor body image. For parents, these kinds of studies are so important. We have to make it a point to constantly build our kids up, and fight the good fight against poor body image.

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