Children as young as three are showing signs of being unhappy with their appearance and bodies, a survey of childcare professionals has suggested.
Almost a third of nursery and school staff said they had heard a child label themselves fat while 10% said they had heard a child say they felt ugly.
Nearly a quarter said they had “seen signs” children aged between three and five were “unhappy with their appearance or bodies” and this figure almost doubled to nearly half of six- to 10-year-olds.
About one in five children has been seen to reject food because “it will make them fat”, according to the study.
The research was done by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey) between June 27 and August 8 and had a limited sample size of 361.
An adviser to the group, Dr Jacqueline Harding, said more research was needed in the area but speculated “contributing factors” were likely to include television and images in story books and animations.
She added: “We know for sure that early experiences matter the most and we need to be very careful about how (even inadvertently) we signal to children that they should think negatively about their bodies and how they look.
“There is also research evidence to suggest that some four-year-olds are aware of strategies as to how to lose weight.”
Pacey is the early years partner for Be Real, a movement campaigning to change body image attitudes aiming to put health above appearance in young people.