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Study Finds 80 Percent Of 10-Year-Old Girls Have Been On Diet

By Candice Leigh Helfand
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Screen grab of a statistic stating that 80% of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet. (Credit: The Miss Representation Campaign's Facebook page)

Screen grab of a statistic stating that 80% of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet. (Credit: The Miss Representation Campaign’s Facebook page)

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SEATTLE (CBS Seattle) – Data released recently by the Keep It Real campaign – a joint effort between Miss Representation, the SPARK Movement, Love Social, Endangered Bodies and I Am That Girl – states that 80 percent of all 10-year-old girls have, at some point in their lives, gone on at least one diet.

The campaign was created as an effort intended to get everyone from major magazines and media outlets to mothers and fathers around the world to think more about how their words and actions regarding perceived beauty affect a child’s view of themselves and others.

More specifically, the campaign is asking a slew of well-known beauty magazines to publish at least one unaltered photo per month in the effort to reshape what they feel is an unrealistic representation of women.

The startling statistic came from a study, “Eating Disorders Today – Not Just A Girl Thing” by Kimberly Hepworth, which cited an earlier article published on the topic by Lori Henry at Suite101.com.

And it’s just one of many pieces of information the campaign is releasing in order to raise awareness.

“[A total of] 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies,” another blurb reads. “That number increases to 78 percent by age 17.”

Research conducted by the National Eating Disorders Association lines up with what the Keep It Real campaign is saying. According to them, between 40 and 60 percent of children ages 6 to 12 are concerned about their weight or becoming too fat, and 70 percent would prefer to be thinner.

“It’s bad out there, it’s brutal, it’s hard … [and] we’re seeing it younger and younger,” Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of NEDA, told CBS Seattle. “I’ve seen a girl as young as 8 years old on a feeding tube. It’s a serious problem.”

Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, attending physician at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, has also seen first-hand the ways in which eating disorders can affect a growing child.

“A significant amount of cognitive and psychological growth happens, as well as physical [during childhood and teenage years],” Breuner, who also serves as an associate professor at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, told CBS Seattle. “[Not eating] curbs brain and height development.”

Grefe said that, despite the risks, children and teenagers – as much as half of all female teens, and a third of all male teens – are trying to lose weight through unhealthy means such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting or taking laxatives.

Amy Zucchero, campaign director for Miss Representation, told CBS Seattle that exposure to media – and subsequently, to what they feel are distorted images of idealized male and female beauty – as well as to conversations conducted by nearby adults tend to heavily influence their self and world views.

“It starts in the home. Magazines are lying around family’s houses … and at newsstands and check-out counters. You can’t go to the grocery store without seeing an altered picture of a woman,” she said, adding that children also observe what their parents watch on television, and absorb content through social media sites they are accessing at statistically younger ages. “And the way men and women talk about other women, like they’re objects … when you talk about people like that, kids pick up those habits.”

Apart from urging those disseminating content to the public to assume responsibility, experts agree that parents need to take a more proactive role in combatting the issue.

Added Grefe, “Parents need … to encourage healthy relationships with food, and make eating together a time of sharing, not a time of talking about grams or calories. We come in different shapes and sizes.”

Bruener agreed that parenting plays a pivotal role, much in the way that parents can teach kids to brush their teeth or buckle their seatbelts through model behavior, but added that delving into the contributing factors of eating disorders is not unlike “peeling an onion.”

“There are definitely environmental and external influences on kids to look a certain way,” she said, referencing television and magazines aimed toward not only teenagers and adults, but toward ‘tweens as well. “Genetic factors are also important, it’s definitely inherited. And there is some psychological stuff that goes hand in hand.”

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