A Health Education Authority (HEA) survey of 11- and 12-year-olds found that half of girls and one-third of boys had anxieties about the shape and weight of their bodies. It claims that, by the time they are twelve, twice as many girls as boys want to lose weight, and blames the influence of fashion models for low self-confidence and poor self-image in children as they strive in vain to live up to the supermodel ideal.
Parents, meanwhile, are floundering in their attempts to help because they are ill-equipped to discuss sensitive issues such as body image with their children, the report says.
The HEA has called for guidelines to be produced to help parents deal with the five stages of childhood - antenatal, postnatal, pre-school, 5- to 11-year-olds and teenagers.
Kathy Elliott, director of family and child health at the HEA, said: "Parents' need for information only begins when they have their first baby but it continues, and evolves, as their children grow. They want reassurance about what is 'normal' behaviour."
Research found that mothers were often unprepared for the shock of a new baby - even after antenatal classes - and that outside support for the mothers lessened as their children grew older.
The report recommends that more attention should be given to the emotional aspects of parenting, and in particular to the needs of fathers and boys who lacked awareness when it came to issues of stress, sex education, and relationships.
Despite the recommendations, the report - the first to examine parents' and children's perspectives on health - concludes that no model of parenting is better than another.Reuse content