Body Image Anxiety... But Whose?
> 12/16/2005 3:37:06 PM


New research published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders provides fascinating insite into body image stereotyping in toddlers and its relationship to healthy eating habits later in life. Scientists from Florida State University, Wesleyan University and the Oregon Research Institute worked together on a study that examined parental perceptions of their toddler's body weight--both boys and girls.

Led by FSU professor Thomas Joiner, "Researchers found that parents of 3-year-olds worried that their sons but not their daughters were underweight—even though the weights and body mass index of the boys and girls in the study were nearly identical. They also said that their daughters ate enough food, but their sons did not."

Researchers saw this as an embodiment of parents' buying into media and societal stereotypes.  Joiner links this behavior to the greater trend of parents attempting to create the "perfect" life for their children.  While parental pressures to do well in school and compete at a high athletic level are troubling, this new trend may be most damaging of all because it is effecting children as young as 36 months.  When parents inculcate these troubling eating patterns into their young children, they are setting in motion a vicious cycle.

Interestingly, researchers found that while 20% of girls and 18% of boys who participated in the study would be classified as overweight (as classified by height and weight measurements provided by the parents themselves), not one of the parents sampled responded that their child was overweight.  Researchers noted that "this finding calls into question parents' ability to accurately describe their child's body shape and size."

It is clear from these results that in many families there is a clear disconnect between a toddlers relative physical well-being and the parents' perceptions of it.  As Joiner and his team have pointed out, this disconnect can most likely be linked directly back to societal pressures (whether real or imagined) to strive for perfection.  In practice it can create a double edged sword situation whereby parents feed their children to match preordained body images and then ignore realities that do not fit with their fantasy perceptions of perfection.

Solutions?  Joiner posits the following, ""The only time a parent should be concerned is if a young child is not eating at all or is under eating in a very noticeable way. With kids who overeat, restriction does not work. Instead, parents should offer them a variety of healthy foods to choose from and encourage exercise."

Quotes courtesy of Florida State University news archive: FSU study finds body image stereotypes may begin in the high chair


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