Kids who want to be thin may gain more weight as adults

The desire to be thin in the skin they are in starts early — especially for girls. In fact, studies show that 80% of girls have been on a diet by the time they are 10 years old. And more than half of girls and one-third of boys ages six to eight wish they had thinner bodies, according to Common Sense Media.  

Media has a huge influence on how children think about their bodies. Eighty-seven percent of female characters ages 10-17 on TV are below average in weight. And measurements of toy male action figures exceed even that of the largest bodybuilders.

While genetics and hormonal factors can affect a child’s weight, parents may also play a role in how their children perceive weight.  For example, a parent who is constantly talking about dieting or criticizing people who are overweight or obese can instil fears about weight gain in their children.

It comes as no surprise that a recent study in Obesity reports that for young people a preoccupation with weight and the desire to be thinner can persist into adulthood and lead to compulsive eating and greater weight gain.

The study of  623 women began when they were 10 years old and ran for about 20 years. The participants were assessed five times during adolescence for their drive for thinness, reward-based eating and BMI. The study concluded that the desire to be thin during the critical development years can have long-term effects on adult eating behaviours tied to greater weight gain. It noted that there are likely to be benefits to early interventions to help girls and women manage negative thoughts and emotions about food and weight gain.

What can parents do to help their children not be so concerned about weight? Common Sense Media offers these suggestions:

  1. Show an interest in your child’s life by engaging them in conversation about friends, school and feelings.
  1. Help kids nurture a positive self-image by focussing on their talents and strengths.
  1. Step in when kids need support.
  2. Emphasize health, not weight.
  1. Teach appreciation for all types of people.
  1. Ban “fat talk”: be careful what you say about other people’s bodies and appearance.
  1. Say what you appreciate about your own body.
  1. Be a good role model by staying active and eating well.
  1. Remember boys have issues with body images, too: Listen for negative body talk and challenge messages from coaches, peers and media about weight, exercise and muscle building.
  2. When consuming media with your child, question and challenge stereotypes about body types.