Background: Childhood obesity is a continuing problem in the UK and South Asian children represent a group that are particularly vulnerable to its health consequences. The relationship between body dissatisfaction and obesity is well documented in older children and adults, but is less clear in young children, particularly South Asians. A better understanding of this relationship in young South Asian children will inform the design and delivery of obesity intervention programmes. The aim of this study is to describe body image size perception and dissatisfaction, and their relationship to weight status in primary school aged UK South Asian children.
Methods: Objective measures of height and weight were undertaken on 574 predominantly South Asian children aged 5-7 (296 boys and 278 girls). BMI z-scores, and weight status (underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese) were calculated based on the UK 1990 BMI reference charts. Figure rating scales were used to assess perceived body image size (asking children to identify their perceived body size) and dissatisfaction (difference between perceived current and ideal body size). The relationship between these and weight status were examined using multivariate analyses.
Results: Perceived body image size was positively associated with weight status (partial regression coefficient for overweight/obese vs. non-overweight/obese was 0.63 (95% CI 0.26-0.99) and for BMI z-score was 0.21 (95% CI 0.10-0.31), adjusted for sex, age and ethnicity). Body dissatisfaction was also associated with weight status, with overweight and obese children more likely to select thinner ideal body size than healthy weight children (adjusted partial regression coefficient for overweight/obese vs. non-overweight/obese was 1.47 (95% CI 0.99-1.96) and for BMI z-score was 0.54 (95% CI 0.40-0.67)).
Conclusions: Awareness of body image size and increasing body dissatisfaction with higher weight status is established at a young age in this population. This needs to be considered when designing interventions to reduce obesity in young children, in terms of both benefits and harms.