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Aussie kids obsessed with avoiding fatness

Photo: Aussie kids obsessed with avoiding fatness
Australian kids demonstrate an unhealthy concern about body image when it comes to their perceptions about being healthy, which can threaten well-being, according to a new study.

The study shows that 11-12 year old children describe the negative consequences of consuming various foods on their body, and feel the need to take personal responsibility for choices which prevent ‘fatness’.

Lead author Dr Stefania Velardo, from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University, says the results point to the importance of reshaping public messages and health education initiatives to encourage children to develop more positive relationships with food.

“When we talked to children about their understandings of health, they highlighted the importance of a healthy diet and active lifestyle to prevent diseases and specifically ‘fatness,’
Children over-emphasised the links between body size and their health, without acknowledging other aspects of health such as sleep, socialisation and feeling good.

"We know from research that focusing on visual elements like thinness as a marker of a healthy body could be detrimental to young people's wellbeing,” says Dr Velardo

“For example, some children could reasonably avoid healthy food consumption across the five core food groups if they are already seen to have a socially acceptable body. However, more concerning is the potential for children’s ideas about fatness to breed anxiety, shame and negative psychological experiences.”

“As such, we need to encourage children to focus less on looks by emphasising the wide-ranging benefits of nutrition and physical activity including strength, concentration, energy, social relationships and fun.

Published in journal Appetite- the study included interviews with 38 children aged between 11-12 from SA government primary schools.

Previous global studies show poor body self-image can trigger negative reactions and worsening mental health- proving public health initiatives about weight are often misunderstood and inadvertenly cause body image anxiety.

“Our results indicate that children’s attitudes are linked to perceptions about obtaining an ideal body, with girls placing more emphasis on the negative judgement associated with being overweight. 

“Children used words like fat, large, big, lazy and sick  to describe overweight individuals, constructing the image that a fat body is unhealthy, undesirable and unproductive.”

“Parents, teachers, health professionals and governments all play an important role in re-shaping discourses of health and nutrition in order to support children to develop more positive relationships with food and physical activity.”

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