Weight loss push taking a toll on children as young as eight

AUSTRALIAN children as young as eight years old are dissatisfied with their body size, with most of those aged 10 to 11 actively trying to control their weight, a major study has found.

The landmark study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies examined more than 4000 children around the country at aged eight to nine and again at 10 to 11.

Executive manager of the longitudinal study for Australian children Dr Ben Edwards said it showed those unhappy with their body image were also more likely to have poorer social and emotional wellbeing and physical health.

The research found more than half of those aged eight to 11 years wanted a body size slightly thinner than the average, but younger children were more dissatisfied.

Dr Edwards said it showed, regardless of age or actual weight, at least two in five children wanted a "body size slightly thinner than the average".

"Despite a desire for a thinner body, younger children (eight to nine years) were less likely to report their body size accurately, with most children underestimating their body size," he said.

"Compared to 10-11 year olds, a large number of eight to nine year old boys and girls were dissatisfied with their body size with many children wanting to be thinner than the average body size."

But Dr Edwards said there was "good news" in the research, finding that as the children got older, they were more accurate in gauging their right body size and more likely to be happy with it.

However, while the older children were more likely to be happier about their weight, the majority of those children, at 61% for boys and 56% for girls, had tried to "manage their weight" in the past 12 months.

Institute research fellow Dr Galina Daraganova said there were no differences between boys and girls trying to lose weight; more boys tried to gain weight compared with girls of the same age.

"In addition, the research shows the proportion of children who were trying to lose or gain weight was greater among those who were dissatisfied with their body image," she said.

Dr Daraganova said children who were not satisfied with their body image were also less likely to "feel fit", enjoy physical activity, and were more likely to have "high levels of emotional and behavioural problems".