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Women are sharing their experiences with body shaming under hashtag #TheySaid. (Kat Chadwick / Getty Images.)

A new study shows high numbers of teenagers have negative thoughts about weight gain and are taking rather a dramatic action to control it.

Jitarth Jai Bharadwaj, Amelia Dunn, Abbie Dinham
Published on
Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 16:55
File size
17.16 MB
9 min 22 sec

Analysts say they are concerned problematic eating behaviours at a young age are increasingly leading to eating disorders years later.

Melbourne youths say they constantly feel the pressure of beauty expectations driven by social media.

Reports participant says she has also noticed how being bombarded by the pictures of models has affected what she eats day-to-day.

“Say I’m going to a party or I'm going out with my friends, I won’t eat during the day, because I want to be as good as I look at that event.”

New research released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found over half of teenage girls have negative views of their bodies.

It also found one in two girls and one in five boys are afraid of gaining weight.

A quarter of the girls surveyed said they regularly restrict their food intake, and those dieting recorded higher rates of social and emotional problems.

The executive manager of the research, Dr Galina Daraganova, says young people are experiencing anxieties over body image from when they are children.

“Those kids who were dieting at the age of 14, 15, they've already started to take some actions to control their weight and to lose weight when they were 10, 11 years old.”

Analysts say problematic eating behaviours can trigger bigger problems in later years, with those dieting from a young age being 12 to 18 times more likely to develop eating disorders.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Sloane Madden says the demand for services like his is increasing at an alarming rate.

“I'm busier than I've ever been. Certainly, particularly at a very young age, we’re seeing people with very severe eating disorders presenting at a much, much younger age.”

Dr Madden says he now sees patients as young as eight or nine years old, with one in four of them male.

Dr Sidharth Sarmah is general practitioner (GP) in Gold coast he says social media and an obsession with self-image is causing the worrying trends.

“Look, I think there are a number of factors. Certainly, exposure to images of people who are thin, and promotion of those images as being desirable and equated with success, are everywhere you look.”

Social-media apps like Instagram and Snapchat are considered the most persuasive on young minds.

Dr Sarmah says it is the parents' responsibility to encourage normal eating and social habits and make sure they pass on a healthy body image to their children.

“They need to stop talking about how fat they look in particular clothes, or that they are not fit and they need to do exercise. I think the message should be completely different. We need to send the message that food is fuel.”

Australian cyber-safety analyst Ross Bark says the role of social-media influencers, who post their desirable but often unrealistic lives online, is a new phenomenon impacting young consumers.

“They’re effectively being driven to be like these influencers when, in fact, it’s impossible for them to do so. So we're seeing a dramatic upturn in kids that have ... we're seeing a lot of anxiety and mental-health issues because of that.”

Mr Bark says increasing numbers of teenagers now prefer picture-posting apps to more conventional social-media platforms and believe their parents are taking over Facebook.

“They don’t want their parents to be seeing everything that they’re posting, which I know is a major anxiety for parents, but that’s why they’re moving towards things and are using Instagram and Snapchat, and even applications like Whatsapp, where they're sharing things in groups."