Experts have called for boys to be included in programs targeting low self-esteem and body image. While it has been known that pre-adolescent boys can feel pressure to fit body ideals, focus has generally been on girls.
A study published last year in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, found that nearly 18 per cent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique.
Now Dr Catherine Connaughton and Dr Gemma Tatangelo, research fellows at the Institute for Health and Aging at Australian Catholic University (ACU), say that their research shows that from around the age of eight many children already have definite body image ideals, and that these are different for girls and boys.
“Boys have clear ideas about body image types revolving around masculine physical stereotypes such as strength and athletic body shape,” says Dr Tatangelo. “And media, peers and parents are influencers of this gender stereotyping.”
For boys an ideal physique is all about gaining muscle and losing body fat, and sometimes with dangerous consequences – often cited research says thatin the last 15 years or so, more men have eating disorders than ever before, with steroid use also on the rise.
Dr Connaughton and Tatangelo stress the need for programs that address the differing needs of boys and girls, using their findings from studying a group of 652 school children between the ages of 8 and 10 participated, with 335 children (172 boys; 163 girls) in a prevention program, and 317 students (149 boys; 168 girls) in a control group.
The research looked at how influences such as the media and peer pressure affected body image, as well as attitudes toward exercising and eating, and the program undertaken by the researchers found it increased body esteem in girls and changed the attitude of boys toward masculine gender norms, while also pushing healthy eating and exercise.
“While further work is needed, this study provides support for school-based, gender-specific body image interventions to address healthy eating, physical activity, and positive body image in preadolescents,” says Dr Tatangelo.