Predictors of body image and body dissatisfaction among Australian children in the transition from childhood to adolescence: a 6-year cross-sectional study

Huei-Wen Chiang

PhD thesis, conferred 2016

The aim of this study was to identify the predictors of body image and body dissatisfaction among Australian primary schoolchildren. The present study first examined gender differences of variables among Australian schoolchildren aged 6 to 14 years at baseline in 2007. These identified variables (i.e., pubertal status, body image, breakfast skipping, and body image related to barriers to physical activity) were further examined for cross-sectional changes in predictors of body image dissatisfaction at two time points among children and adolescents aged 9 to 16 years in 2009 (Time 3) and 12 to 18 years in 2012 (Time 6). The major variables of height, weight, body image and body dissatisfaction were measured annually in a cohort of 939 boys and girls aged 6 to18 years, from 2007 to 2012.

Results at baseline in 2007 found that, in general, boys were more likely than girls to be taller, eat breakfast, spend more time in physical activity, sleep less, have lower scores for the mother and father physical appearance scores, desire a heavier body weight, choose a larger ideal male and ideal female figure, and were more satisfied with their physical appearance. Both boys and girls (39% vs. 49%) expressed body image concerns such as a desire for "A little " and "A lot" lighter body weight and a perception of being "Too fat" (6.8% vs. 7.2%). Girls had a greater Stunkard Discrepancy Score and hence greater body dissatisfaction, indicating that their ideal figure was smaller than their current figure. Predictors of body dissatisfaction were similar for boys in 2009 and 2012, with 53% of the variance in body dissatisfaction in boys being explained by BMI alone in 2009 and 19% in 2012. BMI explained less of the variance in body dissatisfaction in boys at the later time point. Predictors of body dissatisfaction in girls were BMI, explaining 38% of the variance in 2009, followed by body image related barriers to physical activity explaining 2% of the variance.

In 2012, predictors were BMI (38% of variance), post-pubertal status (5% of variance), body image related barriers to physical activity (2%), and a poor breakfast score (1%). The study confirmed actual weight (BMI) as the major predictor of body dissatisfaction as well as new findings that puberty, body image related barriers to physical activity and breakfast skipping were predictors of body dissatisfaction outcomes in girls.

Supervisor: Professor Jenny O'Dea