According to recent research carried out by two education consultants, children start dieting as young as ten years old. Chris Calland and Nicky Hutchinson had previously been secondary and primary school teachers, before becoming consultants in Bristol specialising in the behaviour of children.
Following numerous requests from teachers and head teachers for advice on how to deal with children who were anxious about their body image, the pair devised a body-image course designed for primary school children. Cheddar Grove in Bristol piloted the course. A third of girls surveyed said they were worried about their body’s appearance, while just over a fifth of boys were concerned about body image. Dieting starts at an average age of ten years old.
According to Hutchinson and Calland, children today have much lower confidence in their body image than ever before, which is demonstrated by the increasing cases of children with an eating disorder or anxiety about appearance. Although traditionally it’s girls who worry about their bodies, boys are now just as anxious, wanting to be muscular but not overweight. Research revealed that a number of teachers were concerned about discussing body image, for fear of making a child’s issues worse. The education consultants said that there will always be children in a class with issues, like child obesity, disfigurement or disability or low self esteem. The course aims to discuss issues to ease anxiety.
The course is under evaluation by a senior psychology lecturer at the University of the West of England, Dr Emma Halliwell. The children who took part in the pilot have already been asked about the impact of the course and will be questioned again before the year end. Parents have praised the course, saying that it prompted their children to discuss issues at home.