A survey of childcare professionals found 71 per cent believed children are becoming more anxious about their bodies at a younger age than before
Children as young as three are showing signs of being unhappy with their appearance and bodies, a childcare charity has warned.
Almost a third of nursery and school staff said they had heard a child label themselves as “fat” while 10 per cent said they had heard a child say they felt ugly.
Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they had “seen signs” children aged between three and five were “unhappy with their appearance or bodies” and this figure almost doubled to nearly half of six- to 10-year-olds.
More than half said they noticed that girls were more conscious of their looks than boys.
The research, carried out by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), suggests worries around image and weight begin before a child has even started school, and highlights concerns that children are becoming anxious at a younger age than before.
An adviser to the group, Dr Jacqueline Harding, said more research was needed in the area but speculated “contributing factors” were likely to include television and images in story books and animations.
Dr Harding said: “By the age of three or four some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds – and even hold strong views – about how bodies should look.”
“There is also research evidence to suggest that some 4-year-olds are aware of strategies as to how to lose weight.”
She added: “We know for sure that early experiences matter the most and we need to be very careful about how (even inadvertently) we signal to children that they should think negatively about their bodies and how they look.
The report from Pacey advises parents to be aware that even very young children can be influenced by the way they talk about their own body and appearance, and that parents and peers are likely to be the biggest influences of all.
Nick Harrop, Campaigns Manager at YoungMinds children’s mental health and wellbeing charity, said: “It’s alarming that some children as young as three are already unhappy with their appearance.”
“Childhood is when our mental health is developed and patterns are set for the future – so it’s crucial that parents reassure their children about how they look, set a positive example and build their self-esteem.”