Pre-adolescent boys and girls have differing body image issues, requiring gender specific programs, researchers told the APS College of Health Psychologists Conference in Sydney today.
Dr Catherine Connaughton and Dr Gemma Tatangelo, research fellows at the Institute for Health and Aging at Australian Catholic University, say that research has shown that by the age of eight many children already have definite body image ideals, and that these are different for girls and boys.
“Boys have clear ideas about body image types revolving around masculine physical stereotypes such as strength and athletic body shape,” says Dr Tatangelo. “And media, peers and parents are influencers of this gender stereotyping.”
The researchers say that eight to ten year old boys are employing strategies to lose weight and gain muscle.
Most body image programs have targeted preadolescent and adolescent girls, however, Dr Tatangelo and fellow reserachers at ACU developed an evidence–based program that addressed the different needs of boys and girls.
The program examined the influence of media, peers and parents, how happy or dissatisfied children were with the way they looked, the extent children tried to change their body through exercise and eating, how happy they felt on a daily basis, fruit and vegetable intake and BMI.
A total of 652 school children between the ages of 8 and 10 participated, with 335 children (172 boys; 163 girls) in a prevention program, and 317 students (149 boys; 168 girls) in a control group.
The prevention program children reported significantly higher levels of body esteem for girls, and a decrease in the investment in stereotypical masculine gender norms in boys, healthier eating for boys and girls and increased appropriate physical activity for boys.
“While further work is needed, this study provides support for school-based, gender-specific body image interventions to address healthy eating, physical activity, and positive body image in preadolescents,” says Dr Tatangelo.