By Chelsea Karnash

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Middle school is a time most rational people would like to forget – the time when bullies and body issues tend to emerge and self-awareness often reaches an uncomfortable level.

But might it be possible to change that – or at least delay it – by keeping kids in elementary school longer?

A new study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly says yes.

The researchers posed the question, “Is there a link between individual body image and student body?” when conducting their research, which involved an ethnically diverse sample of more than 1,500 female students between fifth and eighth grades in U.S. school districts.

They studied three different populations: junior high (grades K-6 together in one school and 7-8 in another), middle school (grades K-5 and 6-8) and extended middle school (K-4 and 5-8).

Sadly, fifth and sixth grade students who attended schools with older kids reported more negative associations with their bodies when the researchers assessed things like drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction and body objectification. Seventh graders who’d been schooled with older children during fifth and sixth grade showed similar associations.

“What we really found was that whatever grade they entered education with the older kids, that’s where we saw the problems,” explained Jaine Strauss, a psychology professor at Macalester College and an author of the study, to the Huffington Post. “So fifth graders in extended middle school looked a lot like sixth graders in regular middle school.”

Leading researchers to believe that delaying middle school might help girls remain free of body image issues until at least slightly later in life.

“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 study’s authors write.

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