Body Image Issues: 6-Year-Old Girl Worries She Is Fat

In study, nearly half of 3- to 6-year-olds worried about being fat.

ByABC News
June 19, 2011, 8:08 PM

June 20, 2011 — -- When was the last time you saw an overweight woman on the cover of a magazine? Tough question, right?

Thin is in, and it's apparently ingrained in the minds of very young girls.

Taylor Call is a healthy, active 6-year-old pre-kindergarten student who lives outside of Houston. By all outward appearances, she's a normal little girl who likes to play princess and has an outgoing, easy personality. But about a year ago, Taylor came home from school and said something that shocked her mother, Tanya Call.

"We were at home and she just out of the blue said, 'Mommy, why is my tummy so fat? ... A girl in the bathroom at school asked me why I was fat,'" she said.

Dr. Rachel Bray, Taylor's pediatrician, used the girl's height and weight to calculate her body mass index and said Taylor's weight is normal.

"She is not at risk of being overweight and is not considered overweight at this time," Bray said.

But with young girls, perception can override reality.

A 2009 University of Central Florida study found that nearly half of the 3- to 6-year-old participants said they worried about being fat.

Meanwhile, the number of eating disorder hospitilzations for kids under age 12 more than doubled between 2000 and 2006, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

Taylor told "Good Morning America" that she wanted to lose weight.

"I don't like to be my weight and my teacher always tells me I have to run so I can be really, really not like this size," she said.

The girl's mother said they try not to focus on weight, but the messages Taylor gets from her peers definitely have an impact.

At a recent birthday party, a young boy called Taylor "fat girl," Call said. She added that she confronted the boy and explained that it was unkind to speak to people that way.

"I think that was a good way of showing her how to handle something like that," Call said as she teared up.

ABC News gathered a panel of 5- to 8-year-old girls and asked their opinions on the issue.

One girl said she wanted to eat healthy so she wouldn't get fat. Another said she has heard her mother talking about wanting to go to the gym because she was overweight. That girl said she did not believe her mother was overweight.

Another girl said her teacher avoided cake because she was still on her diet.

When ABC News showed the girls pictures of Taylor, they didn't think she needed to drop the pounds. But when the girls were shown random photos of other girls their age, their reactions were not nearly as kind.

"Oh, she has to lose weight," one girl said.

Another agreed. "Yeah, she needs to lose weight."

One of the panelists described a girl in the picture as being "really chubby wubby."

Asked whether she worried that Taylor's body image concerns now could develop into an eating disorder when she gets a little older, her mother replied: "I'm not going to say that it won't or it can't, but I feel if we deal with these issues head on ... I'm hoping that it won't."