Even Preschoolers View the Overweight Negatively

FRIDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- Many preschool children have a negative impression of overweight children, a Canadian study suggests.

The study included 21 boys and 20 girls between 2 and 5 years old at five early learning and day care centers in Toronto. The children heard four stories where one child in each story does or says something nice and the other child does or says something mean.

After each story, the children were shown an illustration of two accompanying figures -- one overweight and one normal weight -- without any facial features and asked to pick which figure was mean and which one was nice.

Nearly 44 percent of the children chose the overweight child as the mean one in all four stories. Just over 2 percent chose the overweight child as the nice one in all four stories, the Ryerson University researchers found.

The researchers also noticed that the children's negative perceptions of overweight children increased with age.

"The preschoolers that we worked with in this study tended to have these negative perceptions," study co-author Aurelia Di Santo, a professor in the school of early childhood education, said in a university news release. "That tells us we need to pay more attention to what's happening during the preschool years."

Parents, caregivers and early-childhood educators should consider their attitudes about body image and try not to project negative ideas onto children, the researchers said.

"We need to reinforce positive values about body image in young children, especially when there are activities at home or in early learning centers that involve discussions on healthy eating," Di Santo said. "We also need to really listen to what children are saying about body image and work with that."

The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Early Childhood Research.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about obesity in children.

SOURCE: Ryerson University, news release, March 30, 2012

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