Obesity has increased dramatically in the last two decades, yet so have awareness campaigns saying appearance does not matter.    The cultural miasma is hardest on its youngest members and even kids aged 10 and 11 are concerned about their image, according to new research.  

A study of 4254 Canadian schoolchildren has shown a direct association between Body Mass Index (BMI) and satisfaction with their body shape. The research in BMC Public Health, says girls are happiest when thinnest but boys have it even worse - they are unhappy when they are too skinny or too fat.

Bryn Austin and a team of researchers from Harvard University and the University of Alberta investigated the relationship between size and body satisfaction, as well as the effects of rural/urban residence, parental education and income, and neighborhood household income.

Austin said, “There is a well-established relationship between poor body satisfaction and increased risk of disordered weight control behaviors, including vomiting, fasting, and use of laxatives and diet pills for weight control. Importantly, body satisfaction appears to be responsive to school-based interventions. To increase our understanding of body satisfaction and its links with BMI in childhood, we studied the prevalence of poor body satisfaction in prepubescent girls and boys, and its association with body weight and socioeconomic factors.”

The researchers measured the height and weight of the 10-11 year old children and asked them to indicate how much they agree with the statement, “I like the way I look”. Overall, 7.3% of girls and 7.8% of boys reported poor body satisfaction. For normal weight, overweight and obese girls the prevalence of poor body satisfaction was 5.7%, 10.4% and 13.1%, respectively.

For boys this was 7.6%, 8.4%, and 8.1%, respectively. Girls from parents with low educational attainment and residing in rural areas were more likely to report poor body satisfaction.

Speaking about the results, Austin said, “Poor body satisfaction among males with a low BMI may reflect the cultural ideal for males to attain both muscularity and leanness; whereas, among females, thinness remains the culturally defined ideal body shape. Our finding that girls who reside in rural areas, controlling for BMI, are more likely to report poor body satisfaction suggests that appearance-related pressures may be higher within rural areas, or perhaps that girls in urban areas benefit from existing programs that may protect against decrements in body satisfaction.”

Article: S. Bryn Austin, Jess Haines and Paul J. Veugelers, 'Body satisfaction and body weight: gender differences and sociodemographic determinants', BMC Public Health (in press)