Monday, November 19, 2012

Discrimination starts young as fat phobia begins

Jack, Tyler
Jack and Tyler at a gymbaroo obstacle class. Picture: Jason Edwards

KIDS as young as three are fat-phobic, a new study has found, and it means larger children are being shunned.

A La Trobe University study has found three-to-five-year-olds don't want to invite their larger-sized peers to birthday parties. And they think fatter children won't have many friends and are meaner, sadder and lazier than skinnier kids. The study, of 118 Victorian preschoolers, is one of the first to reveal anti-fat attitudes in children this young. Across all genders and ages, the children studied chose larger figures as having negative rather than positive characteristics.
Experts say it illustrates the growing discrimination against larger-sized children, who make up one in four Australian kids.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission figures show 94 people made formal discrimination complaints based on physical size in the past five years. This included children bullied at school by peers or denied the chance to join sporting teams because of their weight. Yesterday, acting EO Commissioner Karen Toohey urged parents to help combat size discrimination against children. "Whether it's preschool or school, we have to make sure there is a safe environment for all kids," she said. Ms Toohey said parents were mostly to blame for passing poor attitudes on to their kids.

La Trobe University researcher Emma Spiel said the research showed "negative weight attitudes were present very early in life". "Such attitudes are likely to pave the way for the negative appearance comments and teasing of overweight peers," she said in a research paper published in the latest Body Image journal. Health and fitness experts said larger children were being taken to gym classes and weight loss centres. Johnny Hirst, manager of Voyage Fitness in Swan Hill, said the Gecko Fitness program had helped some children lose up to 10 kilos. "I'd say that 20 per cent of our kids come to lose weight as well as have fun," he said.

Julie Cahill, owner of Knox Gymbaroo, said there was a three-year-old girl in one of her classes who was size 10 for medical reasons. Ms Cahill said she was called "fat" by other children. "Preschoolers seem to be aware of fat, thin, tall and short," she said.

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