YOUNG Irish children are uncomfortable in swimsuits for fear they are fat, researchers have found.
Parents' obsession with dieting and losing weight has a massive impact on children.
The research was presented at the evening lecture series with The Special Interest Group in Child and Adolescent Psychology (SIGCAP) and The Children's Research Network of Ireland and Northern Ireland (CRNINI).
It found there were "reports of dieting, fear of fatness, body image concerns and weight loss attempts, as well as cases of more serious eating disorders". This has an impact on their own social activities, including swimming and taking part in exercise.
It means that primary school girls and boys as young as five are now presenting with eating disorders.
Dr Deirdre Cowman who carried out the research at All Hallows College, Dublin, said that the promotion of positive image should begin from primary school.
"Recent figures from Growing Up in Ireland study show that one third of nine-year-olds are overweight or obese," she told the Herald.
"Because of this pressure, there is a focus on children who are overweight within the school."
Dr Cowman said that parents have a major role to play in emphasising nutrition and healthy eating over losing weight.
"When children and young people hear so much talk about diet and weightloss, that can be taken up negatively," she said.
"They can internalise this and the need to lose weight is greater."
The researcher said that in the voluntary service Bodywhys, "they were receiving more and more calls from schools about children that they were concerned about their weight.
"From ages as young as five, six or seven, they can be experiencing body dissatisfaction".
"Children can be unhappy with their bodies at such a young age. It doesn't always result in an eating disorder -- but it does put children at a greater risk of depression. Teachers need to be aware of that."