Young children are picking up a potentially dangerous message that fat is bad and muscle is good before they have even started school, a study of Australian preschoolers has revealed. Little girls are becoming weight conscious and boys want more muscle, according to the research showing kids form an image of “perfect body” ideals very early in life. The study of four-year-olds found adults are unintentionally sending negative messages in how they talk about their own and the child’s body, said lead researcher Marita McCabe, a professor of psychology at Deakin University. The study of 53 children across four kindergartens is the first to focus on the socio-cultural influences on body image among preschoolers. McCabe said the development of eating disorders was one of the dangers of parents and teachers communicating messages about “ideal” bodies to boys and girls. “They do this by their attitude to their own bodies, and by suggesting to their daughter that they need to exercise more (to lose weight) and to their sons that they need to eat more (to increase their muscles),” she said. Other research shows that dieting and weight-control practices, including vomiting and laxatives, are common among 20 to 45 per cent of adolescent Australians, and may begin as young as eight years old. One study found 71 per cent of school children wanted to be smaller than their current size, and only 7 per cent wanted to be larger. AAP
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