Researchers from the University College London's Institute of Child Health followed thousands of kids into their teenage years and learned that body image issues start as early at 8 years old, and cause years of dissatisfaction. Hoping to prevent these thoughts from arising, and subsequently leading into eating disorders, the researchers' study reveals the problems surrounding how self-esteem develops for boys and girls.

“We were surprised about how body dissatisfaction at that young age tracked into eating disorder behaviors at 14 years,” said the study’s lead author Nadia Micali, a psychiatrist at the Institute of Child Health, according to Time. “The findings suggest that a blanket approach focusing on all adolescents or children might not be best, and that targeted prevention that focused on boys who are overweight/obese rather than all boys might be more useful.”

Micali and her research team tracked 6,000 children from the time they were 8 years old until they turned 14. They found there was a distinct pattern of poor body image. At age 8, only five percent of girls and three percent of boys were unhappy with their bodies. But by the time they turned 14 years old, 39 percent of the girls said they had dieted in the last year and eight percent said they had binged. Meanwhile 12 percent of boys had dieted and 3.5 percent had binged.

As it turns out, media played a huge role in skewing the perceptions children and adolescents made about themselves. Nearly a fifth of the girls reported feeling “quite a lot” or “a lot” of pressure from the media to lose weight. For boys and girls, the chances of developing a poor body image was worsened if their mothers had a history of anorexia, bulimia, or both. The combination of dissatisfaction with their bodies and a high body mass index (BMI) resulted in a higher rate of eating disorder behaviors.

Researchers believe body images manifest at such early ages because of pressures from the media, family, and peers. However, not everyone develops self-esteem issues at the same rate. Because of that, interventions must be tailored in order to prevent each individual child from developing an eating disorder in their teenage years.

“I think that it is important that we adapt our interventions for younger children appropriately,” Micali said, “as there is some evidence that for example ‘healthy eating’ classes that are not designed for younger children might be harmful, especially for those who do not have the cognitive ability to adequately process the information.”

Source: Adolescent eating disorder behaviours and cognitions: gender-specific effects of child, maternal and family. Field AE, Micali N, De Stravola G, Ploubidis E, Simonoff J, and Treasure A. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2015.