Children as young as six suffering body image problems
Few studies have analysed the association between psychological wellbeing and body mass index (BMI) in young children under nine years old. In this new research, led by Professor Sahota, with Dr Meaghan Christian and Dr Rhiannon Day at Leeds Beckett and Kim Cocks of KCStats Consultancy, describe the association of psychological wellbeing (dieting behaviours and body image perception) and BMI in primary school children from Year 2 (age six - seven years) and Year 4 (age eight - nine years).
Data was collected from 301 pupils (52% boys) from eight primary schools in Leeds, participating in the Phunky Foods feasibility study - an early years and primary school programme of healthy lifestyle activities. Psychological wellbeing was measured using the Body Shape Perception Scale and the Measure of Dieting Behaviours (modified version of the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire).
A total of 59 (19%) of the 301 children in the study were overweight or obese. The results showed that children categorised as overweight (85th to 95th percentile) or obese (>=95th percentile) using the World Health Organisation (WHO) BMI Growth Charts had higher body shape dissatisfaction scores on average than normal weight children.
Girls had higher body shape dissatisfaction scores, showing that girls had a higher desire to be thinner than boys. Scores related to dietary restraint (dieting behaviours) showed that overweight and obese pupils reported more dietary restraint than their normal weight peers. Younger children aged six - seven years also reported more dietary restraint than those aged eight - nine years. Dietary restraint means that children are exhibiting dieting behaviours which may lead to compromising the quality of the diet at a time when they need a good quality, healthy diet for growth and development.
Professor Sahota concluded: “The results suggested that body shape dissatisfaction and dietary restraint behaviours may begin in children as young as six and seven years old, and there is an association with increased BMI. Obesity prevention programmes need to consider psychological wellbeing and ensure that it is not compromised. Further research should be conducted on how interventions can help improve psychological wellbeing in this age group.”