Your LIFE: HOW TO GIVE YOUR CHILD A Healthy BODY IMAGE; as the Number of Children with Eating Disorders Rises, It's More Important Than Ever to Make Sure Your Youngster Feels Happy in Their Own Skin

Article excerpt

Byline: BY GAIL TITCHENER

AT least a quarter of British school kids are now overweight or obese by the time they start secondary school, according to research published in the British Medical Journal.

But while it's true kids are getting fatter, at the other end of the scale lies another, equally disturbing trend...

Over the last 10 years, the number of kids hospitalised for eating disorders has risen by a third. Last year, NHS hospitals treated 58 children under the age of 10 - the youngest just six years old.

ChildLine too reports an increased number of calls from youngsters seeking help with the problem and Bupa found that one in five British school pupils wanted cosmetic surgery.

The message that being skinny equals attractiveness, success and happiness is everywhere. So how can you steer your kids away from one danger - without pushing them towards the other?

Here are our tips to help you help your children grow up feeling more confident about how they look.

Have a 'no diet talk' rule

DON'T talk negatively about your own body - or other people's. Asking your husband "Do I look fat in this?" may seem innocent, but your children pay attention to what you say. If you're always complaining about your weight - particularly if there is nothing obviously wrong with it - they may do the same.

Julie, 37, mum to Lindsay, six, feels guilty her daughter already worries about her "fat" thighs during her swimming lessons. She says: "I think my bad self image has rubbed off on her and I'm really concerned for the future."

Dr Andrew Hill, from Leeds University Medical School, says: "Body image problems are often passed down through families. If mum's concerned about her weight and there are siblings who are dieting, then younger children are also likely to be shape and weight-concerned and dieting themselves."

Don't label foods 'good' or 'bad'

ENCOURAGE your child to eat a healthy, balanced diet but don't talk about "good"

and "bad" food. All food is good in the right quantities.

And don't be afraid to offer the odd slice of cake or biscuit. It's important your child understands it's not bad to eat these once in a while.

Appearance ISN'T everything

HELP your child focus on their abilities rather than their looks. Make sure they can identify things they like about themselves - things they are good at.

Remind them of all the things they are besides a "body", such as a caring, friendly person.

Experts say playing sports really helps build confidence and improves self-esteem so try to build some physical activity into your kids' daily routine. …