Girls 'face bias from early age'

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GIRLS at primary school receive less pocket money than their male classmates, are more likely than boys to suffer from low self-esteem and are less likely to think they are very fit, even though they have healthier diets, researchers have discovered.

A study of the lifestyles of almost 8,000 children aged between eight and 11, published today, shows that they start to conform to sexual stereotypes and to suffer from discrimination from an early age.

The Schools Health Education Unit at the University of Exeter questioned children about their health, eating habits, friends, family and how they spent their spare time.

The results revealed that on average, girls received 39p less pocket money each week than boys. At the age of eight, girls received an average of pounds 1.70 per week, while boys received pounds 2.18. At 11, girls received an average of pounds 2.36 and boys an average of pounds 2.64.

By the age of eight, differences in the eating habits of girls and boys had already emerged. These became more marked as the pupils grew older, with girls being more likely to eat brown bread, vegetables and fresh fruit and boys more likely to eat sugar-coated cereals, chocolates and sweets.

When asked what they had for breakfast on the day of the survey, boys were more likely to reply that they had had a cooked breakfast and girls were more likely to say that they had had fruit juice or nothing at all. This finding has led to fears that girls may be becoming figure-conscious and starting to diet even at this early age.

The pupils' perceptions of themselves were drawn from answers to such questions as: 'Are there lots of things about yourself you would like to change?' and 'Do you think that your parents usually like to hear about your ideas?'

Girls were more likely to appear in the lowest category, with 43 per cent in this group compared to 32 per cent of boys, though researchers found that this trend was reversed in some schools they visited.

Very Young People in 1991-2 is published by the Schools Health Education Unit, University of Exeter, Heavitree Road, Exeter EX1 2LU.