Five per cent of girls and three per cent of boys are unhappy with the appearance of their body, according to a new study / Corbis

Research claims that by the age of 14, 32% of girls and 16% of boys are 'moderately dissatisfied' with some part of their body

Children can begin to become anxious about their looks at the age of eight, putting them at risk of developing eating disorders in later life, a new study has found.

After tracking 6,000 children up until they were 14, researchers were shocked to discover that five per cent of girls and three per cent of boys were unhappy with the appearance of their body, The Guardian reported.

By the age of 14, 32 per cent of girls and 16 per cent of boys were “moderately dissatisfied” with some part of their body.

Dr Nadia Micali, lead author of a paper published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said: “When I started the study, I wouldn’t have thought so many boys and girls might be unhappy about their bodies at such a young age.

“My impression is that girls and boys are growing up faster every year almost. They are more mature and faced with issues they probably shouldn’t be faced with so early.”

The study was carried out by Dr Micali, of University College London’s Institute of Child Health and the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, along with researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, King’s College London and Harvard University.

The researchers wrote that their findings suggest that “some children (vulnerable because of early body dissatisfaction and higher weight) might be more vulnerable to feeling under pressure from media, family and peers” than previously thought.

Dr Micali also said when schools warned children about the dangers of being over-weight, they might inadvertently prompt some to try to become unhealthily thin.

“Children in primary schools are given healthy eating classes without even thinking what they might mean. Many of those classes have not been tested as scientists might test them,” she said.

Lorna Garner, of eating disorders charity Beat , said the study was “evidence that one of the causes or contributing factors towards an eating disorder or something that could trigger an eating disorder is the whole thing around body image and self-esteem”.

“Knowing that is incredibly helpful because it gives everybody who is involved with wanting to prevent and manage eating disorders an indication that we need to start earlier,” she said.

She added that body image was not the only trigger for an eating disorder, which she said was a “serious mental illness”.