Child body image development

Child body image development

13 Jul 2011

Preliminary data collected by the Child Body Image Development team at La Trobe University suggests that some children as young as three years of age hold stereotypical beliefs about body size.

mother and sonProfessor Susan Paxton and Professor Eleanor Wertheim from La Trobe University’s School of Psychological Science have received funding from the Australian Research Council to conduct The Children’s Body Image Development Study based on this preliminary research.

‘Even in children of this age, awareness of differences in body size, as well as the ways in which people of different body size are viewed, is developing. This awareness may create a framework through which children evaluate their own and others’ body image and thus may be an important risk factor for the development of future body image concerns in children,’ says Professor Paxton.

The study is seeking 300 three-year-old children—boys and girls— and one or both of their parents to join the study. This longitudinal study aims to understand body image attitudes in young children. In particular, it will examine the development of these attitudes over time, and seek to understand the factors that are likely to influence this development.

The study will ask children to participate in a 30 minute play-based interview using interactive materials such as storybooks and specially designed felt dolls. The structured play session is designed to covertly examine children’s body image attitudes using imagination and hypothetical scenarios.

‘Children who have previously taken part in the session have generally found it to be an enjoyable experience. Parents are asked to complete a questionnaire related to their own beliefs and attitudes toward body image and general health.

‘Understanding the early development of body image in children is important for the design and implementation of interventions to promote a healthy body image, resilience and healthy development,’ Says Professor Paxton.

Interviews will be conducted from July through to December 2011. Participants will also be invited to participate in the study again in 2012 and 2013. Interviews are conducted either in the participant’s home or on campus at La Trobe University, Bundoora. In appreciation for their time and effort, all participants are provided with a $10 voucher and also go into the draw to win one of three monetary lottery prizes.

If parents would like to be involved in this important study, or wish to receive further information, please contact Ms Emma Spiel or the study team on (03) 9479 1906 or

Further information may be found on the School’s website and on Facebook.


For any media enquiries please contact:
Meghan Lodwick

La Trobe University Communications Officer 
T: 03 9479 5353 M: 0418 495 941 E:




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