Well Here’s the Most Depressing Possible Study About Body Image

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A new survey of nearly 400 child-care workers in England suggests that many 3-year-olds have “body-image issues,” and that children as young as four know how to diet. This follows research from the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, which found that up to one-third of preschool-aged children labelled themselves as “fat.”

Concerns have been growing for years that children — even very small ones — pick up ideas about their bodies from their parents, other adults, children, and media like television, magazines, and the internet. But troublingly, this survey suggests that these ideas form very early.

“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,” Dr. Jacqueline Harding, an advisor to the research group, told The Telegraph. While she advises that more study is warranted, the culprits are likely to be exactly what we think they are: “images on TV; images in story books and animations and the general chat by adults about their bodies, dieting and cosmetic surgery.”

The survey also found that about one-quarter of child-care professionals had seen signs that children under five were unhappy with their bodies, and about half of them reported this for children between the ages of five and ten. The new research suggests that waiting to discuss body image until the teen years — when body issues often begin to manifest themselves in more obvious ways — might be too late.