Pre-schoolers need urgent lessons in loving their bodies
Pre-schoolers need urgent lessons in loving their bodies

Health fears for five-year-olds with eating disorders

Body dissatisfaction can be evident in three year olds and children aged five are being diagnosed with eating disorders, as Butterfly Foundation calls for urgent early learning lessons on loving your body.

The Butterfly Foundation highlights research that shows preschoolers are being taught how not to be afraid of food through doll play.

The startling revelation comes as the support organisation reports that body dissatisfaction in children has hit alarming rates.

Almost one quarter of the calls to the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline in the second half of last year related to kids 10 to 24 years old.

"We know that body image starts developing from an early age and that young children are exposed to stereotypical appearance ideals from a whole variety of sources, including story books, cartoons and the toys they play with," Helen Bird, education services at Butterfly said.

Zoe Moran, Mia Thomson and Ryan Saleh, all 3, are happy, confident children. Picture: Adam Head
Zoe Moran, Mia Thomson and Ryan Saleh, all 3, are happy, confident children. Picture: Adam Head

"They also pick up messages to do with appearance, body shape and weight from the significant adults in their lives. There is research to support that socially prescribed stereotypical body size attitudes - negative characteristics towards larger size bodies, positive characteristics to thinner bodies - have been observed in very young children," she said.

The educator warns that children must be taught to be more resilient and to better navigate body image issues.

"If we do not that we are potentially heading down a road which can lead to serious mental health issues going forward -- low self-esteem, depression, disordered eating, and for one in 10 Australians an eating disorder," Ms Bird said.

Queensland early childhood educator Lucy Cook, who runs a chain of Amaze centres throughout the state, said that today's childcare staff are aware of presenting positive body messages to very young children.

"Babies and toddlers are naturally happy with their bodies. They love to wriggle, play with their toes. We can help encourage this by cuddling, giving tender care, smiling and praising. We play in ways that let them move their bodies and learn new skills so they can feel proud of themselves," Ms Cook said.

"As children grow they start to compare themselves to others. They want to feel good about how they look and do what other kids can do. When they feel good it builds up their body image. We can help by teaching them about their bodies, helping them take care of their body, asking them to show us what they can do and how proud we are and modelling being active every day," she said.




Originally published as No age limit on eating disorders