Older girls at school could be a powerful source of poor body image among younger adolescents, a study has found.
A research team, including a high school teacher and two high school students and led by psychologist Jaine Strauss of Macalester College in the US, surveyed 1,536 female students from 5th grade through to 8th grade.
The researchers found that 5th and 6th graders who were educated alongside older girls reported a greater desire to be thin as well as less satisfaction with and more self-consciousness about their bodies.
“Elevated levels of body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, thin-ideal internalisation, body surveillance, and body shame may undermine young teens’ social, emotional, and academic well-being both during the early teen years and in later life,” the researchers write.
“Although body image tends to decline as girls move through adolescence, this study suggests that school grade groupings may influence the pace and timing of this decline.”
The researchers discussed changes that can be made to the education system to delay younger students’ exposure to older grade levels.
“The ideal solution, of course, would be to eliminate the body travails of students of all ages; if older teens were more satisfied with their bodies, then exposure to older schoolmates would be benign,” they write.
The study was published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.
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