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Fitness Articles  ›  Family & Lifestyle

Help Your Kids Love Their Bodies

Parent-Child Activities for Better Body Image

-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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Playing, friends, and homework are among the top things a kid thinks about during a day. But increasingly, one's body shape, size and appearance are competing thoughts. According to Kathy Kater, author of the book Real Kids Come in All Sizes (2004, Broadway Books), kids today are more worried than ever about their size. According to her book, nearly half of third- to sixth-grade girls of normal weight say they want to be thinner. And one-third of them have already restricted their eating to lose weight while 78 percent express fear of becoming fat. Females aren’t the only ones to succumb to the pressure to conform to a certain standard. Kater explains that the lean, sculpted male physique is increasingly presented as normal, causing young males to develop body image and eating problems, and worry when they don't have a six-pack.

Ironically, just as this preoccupation with body size is taking over the psyche of our youth, the health of our nation's children is plummeting. For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of American kids may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, according to a new report published in The New England Journal of Medicine. This anticipated drop is primarily due to the prevalence and severity of childhood obesity and its associated complications. So what’s a parent to do? How do you promote a healthy body size without instilling a preoccupation with it? You have to nurture a healthy body image.

“Body Image” is a term used to describe a person's perception of his or her own physical appearance. Someone with a healthy body image accepts his or her body as it is, while someone with an unhealthy body image sees his or her body as being unattractive or even repulsive. There is a broad spectrum of body image issues plaguing youth, and it is a complex problem without a quick fix. However, there are ways to prevent body image issues in your kids. To help your child achieve and maintain a healthy image of her body, it is important to first understand the combination of influences that contribute to an unhealthy body image in the first place. Then you can arm yourself with strategies to overcome them.

There are many influences that contribute to the unhealthy body image in youth, but one influence stands above the rest: the media. Open any magazine and you’re sure to find unrealistic ideals of beauty that could make anyone feel inferior. Turn on the television or a movie and you’ll see more of the same. But the answer is not to shelter your kids from these images. It is to help them understand them.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • 1KADDY
    Assessments done by schools 'to meet state requirements' are also a form of bullying and guilty of creating a bad body image. Their charts for borderline obese and obese BMIs are not realistic. Children come home crying more often than not. And it leaves parents scratching their heads and trying to pick up the pieces. - 5/24/2014 11:58:33 AM
  • Nice article. Makes me think.

    I have a daughter who is underweight... not overweight. We sometimes joke with her about "being in a car-seat until she goes for a driving test". She already knows about dieting from watching me, but this started before all of that.

    I gave up trying to get her to eat for a long time. Even as a baby, she would go days without eating and the pediatricians repeatedly said that "she will eat when she is hungry".

    I am just going to get healthy foods. I figure that the few times that she eats, at least she will be getting something nutritious. - 2/13/2014 12:55:11 AM
  • The challenge I have is my diet is warping HIS perceptions of normal. He'll say things like "Oh, I cant eat that because I'm watching my fat grams." And YES we have had the talk about "no foods are off limits, some foods are just treat foods." And there is NOTHING wrong with his body. He is FINE. - 4/15/2013 12:27:18 PM
  • Interesting article, but I respectfully disagree about not sheltering your children from the media. Especially when we are talking about children aged 8-11. There is no reason they have to be leafing through 17 magazine, or watching a super model documentary on Bravo. Parents need to monitor their children and can control what goes on in their own home. - 4/15/2013 9:19:00 AM
  • Good article. I have a son who has always been smaller than his age-mates, but at age 14 he started growing and bulking up and eating TONS so he thought he was getting heavy. I used the BMI calculator here in the SP Resources to show him he is at the perfect weight for his height. That really opened his eyes and he's relaxed about himself and accepted himself. - 1/19/2012 10:46:48 AM
  • I think one of the most important points was a little buried in the article: watch what you say about your own body and perceived shortcomings around your kids. When your kids are young, they model their behavior more on their parents than on anything they see or hear in the media. When you say things like "I hate my hips" or "my thighs are fat" or indicate that you feel guilty over a handful of chips or a piece of cake, your kids absorb that information. They associate being fat with being ugly and feeling worthless and start to view foods as bad or forbidden.

    If you want to raise kids with good self-esteem, work on your own! - 9/28/2011 9:30:06 AM
  • Good information for ANYONE, not just parents or children.
    The recommendations would work for anyone wanting to live a healthy life, lose weight, or develop a better body image.
    Well done! - 8/22/2011 12:05:55 PM
  • Actually, this is a great article for adults too... I'm actually going to do quite a few of those things on the list...if not all of them! - 7/31/2010 8:36:06 AM
  • Very good article. Thanks! - 7/27/2009 1:21:03 PM
  • This was a really good article and I will defintely pass this on to my cousin. She is dealing with weight issues at 13, she doesn't look like the rest of the girls in her class and I'm sure this has to be hard. I always try to encourage self-love and self-appreciation because if she can't love & appreciate herself then she won't expect that from others outside of family. - 9/9/2008 12:57:39 PM
  • If you haven't yet, check out that video that's linked in this article about media's distortion of beauty. They literally distort the photo, enlarging the eyes, lips, elongating the neck, etc. Even I could look like a model! :) - 4/5/2008 11:42:37 PM
  • If you haven't yet, check out that video that's linked in this article about media's distortion of beauty. They literally distort the photo, enlarging the eyes, lips, elongating the neck, etc. Even I could look like a model! :) - 4/5/2008 11:41:40 PM
  • My dd joined SPARKTEENS and has been learning so much about healthy diet and exercise. - 3/17/2008 8:16:28 PM
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