University of Calgary

It’s not about a number

UToday HomeJanuary 18, 2013

By Betty Rice

Education grad student Angela Bardick has focused her research on body image in youth. Photo credit: Riley BrandtEducation grad student Angela Bardick has focused her research on body image in youth. Photo credit: Riley BrandtIt’s mid-January, and the chances are good that many New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. Often unrealistic goals are set post-holiday, and there’s no doubt many of them involve some form of weight loss plan, without any consideration as to whether or not the diet undertaken is appropriate to our health and well-being. What we may not realize as adults is that many of our ideas about body image and weight loss may be sending the wrong message to the younger generation about health and appearance.

Angela Bardick is hoping to change that. The PhD student in Educational Psychology has focused her work on the prevention of eating disorders, obesity, and weight-related issues in youth.

“When I was an elementary school teacher, a group of my Grade One students started a “diet club” to be like their moms,” she explains.

“So we can see that children as young as age six have demonstrated body image dissatisfaction. We also know that children as young as age three have demonstrated weight bias--the internalization of negative weight-based stereotypes--and children as young as ten have shown dieting and disordered eating behaviors,” she says.

The statistics are alarming: one in every seven children in Alberta between the ages of seven and 13 is considered obese, but it’s not simply the issue of obesity that concerns Bardick. In a Canadian sample of ten to 14 year olds taken in 2005, 30% of girls and 24.5% of boys in a healthy weight range were dieting to lose weight.

Bardick believes that initiatives like Healthy Weight Week, which takes place from Jan. 20-26, can serve as a catalyst for change in attitudes towards self image and the perceptions of others.

Healthy Weight Week focuses on the celebration of healthy diet-free living habits that last a lifetime and prevent eating and weight problems. This includes being accepting, healthy, and happy at our natural weights, and accepting diversity in body sizes and shapes. During the week, people are encouraged to improve health habits in lasting ways ― to eat well, live actively and feel good about themselves and others.

“It’s a time to celebrate the diversity of real people and help them shift focus from unhealthy weight loss efforts to health at their natural sizes. As adults, we need to give serious thought to changing how our own weight-related attitudes and behaviours around weight impact the children in our lives.”

Learn more about Healthy Weight Week.