A group of researchers followed 6000 children until they reached the age of fourteen years and found that children as young as eight can be unhappy with their bodies and develop eating disorder behaviors later on.
The study published on the British Journal of Psychiatry indicates that at the age of eight, 5% of girls and 3% of boys already said they were unhappy with their bodies. By the time the children reached the age of 14, 39% of girls admitted they had dieted in the last year. 8% of girls said they had binged.
For the boys, 12% had dieted by the time they reached the age of 14, and 3.5% had binged.
While the study indicates that eating disorders have a “peak”age of 15-19 years old, symptoms of these disorders commonly manifest in pre-adolescence and early adolescence.
The study also strongly indicates that pressure from those closest to the children, media and peers plays a key role in whether they feel they need to lose weight and look a certain way.
Although the bulk of previously collected data on eating disorders is quite limited, primarily to small groups of girls, short-term prospective studies have suggested high stability of body dissatisfaction across both genders and ages.
Researchers say that eating disorder behavior does vary according to gender and that strategies to overcome these behavior must also be gender specific.