Preschoolers tend to perceive overweight peers as `mean`

Washington, Apr 1: Some preschoolers may consider overweight kids to be not as "nice", a new study has revealed.

"A child's perception of body image is influenced by many factors in their environment, yet there hasn't been much research conducted in this area with young children," said Wei Su, lead author of the study.

Wei Su, in collaboration with Aurelia Di Santo, a professor in Ryerson's School of Early Childhood Education, spoke with 41 children (21 boys and 20 girls), ages two and a half to five years, at five early learning and daycare centres in the Greater Toronto Area.

Each child listened to four stories, two about boys and two about girls, where one child in each story says or does something `nice' and the other child does or says something `mean'.

After each story, the child is shown an illustration of two accompanying figures without any facial features: one who isn't overweight and one who is. The child is then asked to identify which figure is "nice" and which one is "mean".

The researchers found that nearly 44 per cent of young children chose the child who was overweight to be the "mean" child in all four stories.

When the children were asked to give a reason for their choice, they described the figures looking "really, really mean" or "mad" and that the "mean" child looked "fatter" or "bigger" even though the figures did not have any facial expressions.

Slightly more than two per cent of children identified the heavier child as being "nice" in all four stories. The researchers also noticed a trend in children's negative perceptions of overweight children increasing with their age.

"Based on these results, preschool children as young as two and a half are being exposed to many factors in their environment that seem to have an impact on body image," said Su.

"The preschoolers that we worked with in this study tended to have these negative perceptions," said Di Santo.

"That tells us we need to pay more attention to what's happening during the preschool years," Di Santo added.

The study has been published in the Journal of Early Childhood Research. (ANI)