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Mums, kids and body image

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport says low body confidence has become one of the major threats against health and wellbeing for men, women, and children.

Negative messages can come from the media, social networking, family and friends.

This constant pressure over impossible demands on bodily perfection can damage self-esteem.

Body image and children

Children pick up on comments about dieting concepts that may seem harmless, such as limiting high-fat foods or eating less. Yet, as girls enter their teen years, having ideas about dieting can lead to problems. Many things can spark weight concerns for girls and alter their eating habits in potentially unhealthy ways, such as:

  • Having mothers concerned about their own weight
  • Having mothers who are overly concerned about their daughters' weight and appearance
  • Natural weight gain and other body changes during puberty
  • Peer pressure to look a certain way
  • Struggles with self-esteem
  • Media images portraying the “ideal” female body as thin

Many teenage girls of average weight think they are overweight and are not satisfied with their figures. Having extreme weight concerns - and acting on those concerns - can harm girls' social, physical and emotional growth. Actions such as skipping meals or taking diet pills can lead to poor nutrition and difficulty learning. For some, extreme efforts to lose weight can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. For others, the pressure to be thin can actually lead to binge eating disorder - overeating that is followed by extreme guilt. What's more, girls are more likely to put their health at even greater risk by trying to lose weight in other unhealthy ways, such as by smoking.

While not as common, boys are also at risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders. Body image becomes an important issue for teenage boys as they struggle with body changes and pay more attention to media images of the "ideal" muscular male.

Tips for parents concerned about body image

Your children pay attention to what you say and do about your own body image - even if it doesn't always seem like it. If you are always complaining about your weight or feel pressure to change your body shape, your children may grow up believing that these are important concerns. If you are attracted to new "miracle" diets, they may consider that restrictive dieting is better than making healthy lifestyle choices. If you tell your daughter that she would be prettier if she lost weight, she may understand that the goals of weight loss are to be attractive and accepted by others.

Parents are role models and you should try to follow the healthy eating and physical activity patterns that you would like your children to follow - for your health and theirs. Extreme weight concerns and eating disorders, as well as obesity, are hard to treat. However, you can play an important role in preventing these problems for your children.

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