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Children as young as 8 have low self-esteem

self esteem

According to new research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, King’s College London and Harvard, found that children are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders if they have low levels of self-esteem by the age of eight.

Children as young as 8 unhappy with their bodies

The UK’s largest study conducted on eating disorders in children tracked more than 6,000 children throughout primary schools up to the age of 14, and found that many children as young as eight are unhappy about their bodies.

There is also a huge difference between girls and boys when it comes to self-esteem and eating disorders. Most worryingly, girls with low self-esteem can suffer from eating disorders regardless of whether they are actually overweight.

Eating disorders in boys

Meanwhile, boys tended to develop eating disorders if they are overweight or obese and began dieting, as they became teenagers. Obesity In UK Children Rising From Earlier Ages

The study was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and used data collected from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children who encouraged pregnant women who were due to give birth between April 1991 and December 1992 to get involved. Almost 14,000 children were registered in the research before the age of one, 6,140 of those children were included in the eating disorder study.

The results show that 5% of girls and 3% of boys were unhappy with their bodies, and that levels of self-esteem in eight-year-olds can be a red flag for future troubles in their teenage years.

Self esteem

Self-esteem levels dropped dramatically as the children grew older, with 32.3% of girls and 16% of boys reporting that they were ‘moderately dissatisfied’ with their bodies at the age of 14. At this age, 38.8% of girls and 12.2% of boys were displaying ‘eating disorder behaviour’. A fifth of 14-year-old girls reported feeling under pressure from the media to lose weight. Moreover, 7.5% of girls and 3.5% of boys were binge eaters.

 Protective measures

Researchers say that higher levels of self-esteem around the age of eight-and-a-half can work as a protective measure against future body issues and eating disorders. This was particularly apparent in boys, who were 19% less likely to engage in eating disorder behaviour like vomiting and using laxatives if they had high self-esteem at 8-years-old.  

The report states: ‘

This suggests that contrary to previous reports, some children (vulnerable because of early body dissatisfaction and higher weight) might be more vulnerable to feeling under pressure from media, family and peers.’

Speaking to The Guardian, Lead author Dr Nadia Micali, of University College London’s Institute of Child Health and the Icahn medical school at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, said:

‘When I started the study, I wouldn’t have thought so many boys and girls might be unhappy about their bodies at such a young age. My impression is that girls and boys are growing up faster every year almost. They are more mature and faced with issues they probably shouldn’t be faced with so early.

‘Children in primary schools are given healthy eating classes without even thinking what they might mean. Many of those classes have not been tested as scientists might test them.

‘Do you tell all boys and girls that they shouldn’t worry about their bodies or do you do it for children at risk – all girls at eight if they have high body dissatisfaction? Maybe boys and girls should be treated differently. There are a lot of unknowns that policy makers should think about.’


Lorna Garner, from the eating disorders charity b-eat, said: ‘It is evidence that one of the causes or contributing factors towards an eating disorder or something that could trigger an eating disorder is the whole thing around body image and self-esteem … knowing that is incredibly helpful because it gives everybody who is involved with wanting to prevent and manage eating disorders an indication that we need to start earlier.’

Obesity crisis 

Scientists recently revealed that they may be able to ‘counter the obesity crisis’ due to a gene variant linked to binge eating was discovered. Girls who have this gene are 30% more likely to become obese. Dr Micali also lead this research, and says:

‘We now know variations in the FTO gene can predict binge eating in teenagers, and binge eating in turn can predict obesity. Eventually this finding could allow us to develop more targeted treatment for binge eating, and enable much earlier intervention so young people don’t develop obesity.’ 



About Siobhan Harmer

About Siobhan Harmer

Siobhan Harmer is an English Freelance writer who drinks far too much coffee!!

Website: Siobhan Harmer

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