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Study: Children as Young as 5 Worried About Weight

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A startling new study shows some disturbing trends about young children and their weight.

The study is out of Ireland, and it says that kids as young as five are worried about looking fat in their swimsuits. 

That in turn puts them at greater risk of having an eating disorder. 

One expert we talked to says it's not just Ireland-- the same thing is happening here.

In a perfect world, childhood should be carefree, where the biggest concern is whether to jump on a swing or head to the monkey bars-- not which diet will work best. 

But more and more, often even very young children, are focusing on their weight. 

Dena Gillis, a mother visiting Philadelphia from Washington, D.C., told FOX 29 it happened to her daughter. 

"I was trying to get her to finish her dinner, and she said I don't want to eat too much, I don't want to get fat," Gillis said. 

"So I was just shocked, I didn't realize that at her age, she was six at the time, that she would be concerned about that."

Experts blame images like magazine covers that glorify weight loss and show perfect bodies, the kind of ideal few of us will ever attain. 

The underlying message: look like them and your life will be better. Dr. Rebecca Walter, a psychologist at the Renfrew Center, which specializes in eating disorders, told FOX 29, "If you hear your child say 'I need to diet, I'm getting too fat,' I think it's useful for parents to be curious." 

Dr. Walter suggested that parents ask, "What makes you say that?"
    

Part of the problem may also be parents themselves, who perhaps are too focused on their own weight and unknowingly passing that anxiety along to their children. 

Tom Heine, a father of five from Haddonfield, New Jersey, says he's careful to put the focus elsewhere. 

"You focus on other things in life," Heine explained.  "You focus on things like school and sports and how they can be good kids, and not focus on things that pertain to diet and weight and things like that."

And if your child is worried about his or her weight, you don't want to give the typical adult advice to go on a diet. 

"If a child is saying that," Dr. Walter said, "then most likely there are other things going on, in terms of not feeling so good about herself."

It can be tricky territory, especially when we're fighting an obesity epidemic in this country.  Experts say parents should focus on healthy eating, and being active.  And try to limit kids' exposure to TV shows and other media that focus too much on body image.  You want to try to protect them from that for as long as possible.

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