Kids Report Body Dissatisfaction As Young As Age 8

Are kids experiencing a self-esteem crisis? 

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Kids’ biggest concern during their childhood years should be figuring out how to get a Frisbee unstuck from a tree, but according to recent research from the U.K., today’s youth have something much heavier weighing on their minds.

In a longitudinal study about eating disorders and self-esteem, British researchers followed over 6,000 kids from childhood to age 14 to find that body image insecurities can manifest as early as age 8.

At age 8, 5 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys reported body dissatisfaction. The percentages jumped over the next five years, when at age 14, 32 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys reported being dissatisfied with at least one part of their bodies.

The results floored lead study author Nadia Micali of University College London’s Institute of Child Health, who says,

“When I started the study, I wouldn’t have thought so many boys and girls might be unhappy about their bodies at such a young age. Imagine eight-year-olds now. It would be much worse.”  

More frighteningly, the study also found that by age 14, about 40 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys had already practiced some form of eating disorder behavior, such as binge eating and purging.

But eating disorders are more heavily influenced by self-esteem than by weight, especially in girls. The study authors suggest that a poor sense of self, regardless of weight, is enough to push teen girls to develop an eating disorder, while teen boys are unlikely to pick up the devastating habit unless their low self-esteem is combined with a big number on the scale.

Aside from breaking the hearts of adults everywhere, the results of this study suggest that our approach to discussing body image with kids is in need of a major overhaul.

If you're not sure where to start, check out our "Body Bullies" story, which includes ideas for how to break free of the body-shaming trend and spread body positivity instead.