Body Image Dissatisfaction and Eating Disturbances among Children and Adolescents: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Prevention Strategies; Body Image Dissatisfaction and Eating Disturbance Often Start at an Astonishingly Young Age. since Athletes Are Especially Vulnerable, Physical Educators and Coaches Need a Good Understanding of the Subject

Article excerpt

A large disparity exists between the socially desired body type and the actual physical shape of America's children and adolescents. Young people are constantly inundated with messages and images of what defines beauty, which includes the glorification of the unrealistically thin or the overly muscular body type. In contrast, the average weight of children and adolescents has progressively increased over the past two decades (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1997; Strauss & Pollack; 2001; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2001). This unrealistically "ideal" body shape, combined with the increasing body weight of our young population, has become a major contributor to the development of body image dissatisfaction, particularly among young girls and increasingly among young boys (Smolak, 2004). Body image dissatisfaction can lead to unhealthy eating patterns, extreme dieting behaviors, and the development of more serious eating disorders, which can have dire health consequences and long-term ramifications. It is critical that educators and parents remain sensitive to these issues facing young people, particularly amid the attention focused on the widespread obesity epidemic. The purpose of this article is to define body image dissatisfaction and to explain the associated eating disturbances that can arise, as well as the contributing risk factors for developing eating disturbances. Lastly, prevention strategies that may be successful in increasing body esteem and decreasing the prevalence of eating disturbances will also be discussed.

Body Image Dissatisfaction and Body Distortion

Body image dissatisfaction is defined as subjective feelings of dissatisfaction (negative thoughts and feelings) with one's physical appearance (Littleton & Ollendick, 2003). Several studies focus on the major trends toward increased body-image dissatisfaction and ideal body-size beliefs found among adolescents and children. Wood, Becker, and Thompson (1996) surveyed 200 children between the ages of eight to 10 years old and revealed that 55 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys were dissatisfied with their weight. In a survey of children's attitudes toward thinness, Collins (1991) found that as early as six to seven years of age, 42 percent of the girls in the study preferred body figures thinner than their own. Similarly, in a survey of ideal body-size beliefs and weight concerns of 817 fourth-grade children, Thompson, Corwin, and Sargent (1997) found that 51 percent of white females and 46 percent of black females selected an ideal body size thinner than their current size. Young boys are not immune to this ideal. Statistics from the same study revealed that 28 percent of white males and 32 percent of black males also selected ideal body sizes thinner than their current size. This trend is apparent across all racial groups. For example, in an ethnically diverse sample of over 200 eight-year-old children, Shapiro, Newcombe, and Loeb (1997) reported that 23 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys said they "always" wished they were thinner.

Another disturbing trend in American society that contributes to body image problems and, consequently, rates of eating disturbances, is body distortion. Body distortion occurs when an individual perceives his or her body shape and size in an inaccurate fashion. Along with body image dissatisfaction, body image distortion peaks during early adolescence, particularly among females. Body distortion clearly exists among American children and adolescents. In one example, Greenfield, Quinlan, Harding, Glass, and Bliss (1987) sampled over 700 high school age girls and boys. From this sample, 81 percent of the girls and 26 percent of the boys stated that they often felt fat. Body distortion was distinct among the girls, with 46 percent describing themselves as overweight, when in fact only 12 percent were. In the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 25. …