Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Relationships between Body Size Attitudes and Body Image of 4-Year-Old Boys and Girls, and Attitudes of Their Fathers and Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Relationships between Body Size Attitudes and Body Image of 4-Year-Old Boys and Girls, and Attitudes of Their Fathers and Mothers

Article excerpt

Authors: Stephanie R Damiano [1]; Karen J Gregg [1]; Emma C Spiel [1]; Si?n A McLean [1]; Eleanor H Wertheim [1]; Susan J Paxton (corresponding author) [1]


A growing literature suggests that children?s body size attitudes and body image are formed in early childhood. Socially prescribed stereotypical body size attitudes, that is, attributing negative characteristics to larger body sizes and positive characteristics to thinner body sizes, have been consistently observed among very young children [1]-[4]. Such stereotypical body size attitudes have been associated with increased weight stigma and engaging in teasing and discrimination, and being a recipient of such behaviours may increase children?s vulnerability to experiencing low self-esteem, depression, and body dissatisfaction [5],[6]. A preference for thin bodies, body dissatisfaction, and dieting awareness have also been observed in pre-schoolers [7] and young children aged five to eight years [8]; which are potential risk factors for the development of disordered eating [9]. Thus, it is essential to identify environmental factors related to the early development of body size attitudes and body image so that effective prevention interventions can be developed to prevent the later onset of body dissatisfaction and eating problems.

In addition to biological and psychological factors, modifiable social factors that include parent influences have been a major focus of theoretical and empirical investigations into the development of body image [10]. In young children, it has been proposed that parents and family play a formative role in shaping the development of body size attitudes and body image, as the family may act as a filter that regulates the child?s exposure to media and prevailing cultural ideals [11]. Parents have been proposed to influence their children in numerous ways: their expressed evaluations about their own and each other?s bodies may serve as models for children to critique themselves and others [12],[13]; their engagement in behaviours, such as exercising and dieting activities, may model the importance of adhering to cultural body size ideals [8],[14]; and their direct instruction, comments, appearance criticism, and teasing may reinforce cultural body ideals and body size stigma [8],[15].

In pre-adolescent and early adolescent children, research is broadly supportive of relationships between mothers? body size attitudes and their children?s, especially daughters?, attitudes. For example, Davison and Birch [11] found that 9-year-old girls were more likely to express negative attitudes about obesity and obese persons when they perceived their mother to be concerned about her own and her child?s weight. Research has also found positive associations between mothers? self-reported negative obesity stereotypes and the self-reported stereotypes of their pre-adolescent boys and girls [16],[17]. Similarly, associations have been observed between mothers? self-reported body image and related behaviours, such as weight-related comments, dieting, and encouragement of child to diet, and pre- and early adolescent boys? and girls? body dissatisfaction, desire to be thinner, and body ideals [18],[19].

Only a small number of studies have examined relationships between mothers? body size attitudes and body image and the body image of their preschool and early school-age children, despite previous research suggesting that parent influences would be especially pertinent at this early age [3],[12]. Specifically, Holub, Tan, and Patel [12] found that mothers? dislike of overweight children and personal fear of fat were positively associated with young children?s negative attitudes about an overweight figure. Moreover, Spiel, Paxton, and Yager [3] observed that mothers? internalization of the thin ideal was associated with young children selecting thinner figures for positive characteristics. A further study of 5- to 8-year-olds showed that a child? …

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