School children need body image lessons - MPs

Model MPs released the Reflections on Body Image report after a three-month inquiry

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All school children should take part in compulsory body image and self-esteem lessons, MPs have recommended.

It comes after an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on body image heard evidence that more than half of the public has a negative body image.

Girls as young as five now worry about how they look, the MPs' report said, while cosmetic surgery rates have increased by nearly 20% since 2008.

Media images of unrealistic bodies were said to be largely to blame, they said.

The MPs released the Reflections on Body Image report after a three-month inquiry, involving an online consultation and oral evidence given to the cross-party group.

Appearance-related discrimination

Among other recommendations was a review into whether the Equality Act 2010 should be amended to include appearance-related discrimination, which would be put on the same legal basis as race and sexual discrimination.

Jo Swinson MP says 1.6m people in Britain are suffering from eating disorders

Under the current act, people can be prosecuted for verbal abuse if it is considered to be serious enough.

If this was amended it would be a offence to harass someone because of their appearance, for example by drawing attention to their weight.

APPG chairwoman, Jo Swinson MP, said there was a "definite problem" with body image and that has "serious consequences".

"It's something which has existed for a long time... but in terms of the scale of it, that is what is new, and it is being driven by the proliferation of media imagery portraying a so-called 'perfected ideal' that is entirely unattainable for the vast majority of people," she told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

'Major barrier'

The inquiry found evidence that suggested body dissatisfaction in the UK was on the rise.

It is a key factor in health and relationship problems and low-self esteem, the report, co-authored by health and education charity Central YMCA, said.

Start Quote

It is clear there is something seriously wrong in society when children as young as five are worrying about their appearance”

End Quote Rosi Prescott Chief executive, Central YMCA

The report suggested it is also a major block to progression at school and work.

Children often reflected their parents' own body-related anxieties, the evidence suggested, while appearance is the greatest cause of bullying in schools.

Body dissatisfaction, the report said, is a problem that affects people regardless of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, body size or shape.

However, the evidence suggested young people and children were particularly vulnerable to anxiety over their bodies.

Parents were one of the main influences on children - but peer groups became a stronger influence by secondary school age.

About half of girls and up to a third of boys have dieted to lose weight, the report said.

More than half of British people have a negative body image, a study by the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, quoted by the report, found.

Eating disorders

The inquiry - which heard from academics, magazine editors, company chief executives, the public, and other experts - also heard that:

  • Wiping out dieting could stop 70% of eating disorders
  • More than 95% of people on diets regain the weight they lose
  • 1.6 million people in the UK have eating disorders
  • Up to one in five cosmetic surgery patients could suffer from body dysmorphic disorder
  • One in three men would sacrifice a year of life to achieve their ideal body
  • One in five people have been victimised because of their weight

The report made a series of recommendations, including:

  • The need for mandatory body image and self-esteem lessons for children at primary and secondary school
  • Requiring advertisers to run long-term campaigns that reflect consumer desire for "authenticity and diversity"
  • Using "weight-neutral" language for public health messages
  • Reviewing broadcast and editorial guidelines on reporting on body-image issues
  • Reviewing the evidence base that supports dieting
  • Creating a new set of regulations controlling cosmetic surgery advertising
  • Introducing screening for potential cosmetic surgery patients
  • The possible amending of the Equality Act to include appearance-related discrimination

Ms Swinson told the BBC the media and companies should take "positive steps to show a greater diversity and authenticity in the images we are bombarded with on a daily basis".

The Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire also said a form of kite-marking as a reward for organisations that take action would be welcome.

Central YMCA chief executive Rosi Prescott said: "It is clear there is something seriously wrong in society when children as young as five are worrying about their appearance."

The inquiry was conducted between 24 November 2011 and 24 February 2012.

It consisted of an online consultation and 10 evidence sessions where witnesses representing organisations with an interest or association with body image gave evidence at the House of Commons. In total, the online consultation had 601 submissions.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Who is the expert that said this will cure eating disorders? There is far more to this than looking at a picture if a thin person. If schools were able to focus on teaching children basic education and life skills this will provide a basis for improving self esteem by achievement rather than the constant reminders of doom and failure that the current curriculum seems to reinforce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I am of a adv. height and healthy weight, and logically I know I have nothing to be worried about. But that doesn't stop me comparing myself to 'the ideal body' and wondering where I went wrong. Self esteem isn't logical. There is more needed than lessons can resolve - as a society we need more emphasis on making the most of what we have, be that physically or mentally, regardless of age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Let's not forget that normal healthy children are rated as obese at school using an arcane set of guidlines that and that gives them a poor self image. These types of stories are regularly in the papers. More wasted money spent on fads and whims of out of touch MP's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    How do you balance the fact that this country has a serious problem with obesity in children and telling them their bodies are fine and not to worry?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    MPs call for body image lessons

    Yep I agree, they need them. Can we give them some counting lessons as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Very Sad
    First they destroy the family, then the state `saves us'
    Bolshevik Communism read up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Has anyone given any thought to the possibility that children (and adults too) who are anxious about their body image are actually doing very little with their lives apart from eating, sleeping, going to school, watching soaps and reality TV, gazing into their phones or playing computer games..Try filling their lives with sport, music, youth organisations. It's simple - GET A LIFE!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The number one example of "obesity" is the number of politicians we have in this country - and their enormous egos.

    We don't need 600+ MPs nor 800+ "Lords and Ladies" - all with their snouts in our wallets - telling us what to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Tosh, more nonsense from Nanny! Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me - thats it! Politically correct language avoiding obesity and other issues will just not work. Did we pay for this c**p!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Not sure how laws against size discrimination would square with bans on size zero models etc. With hostility toward visibly fat people now truly endemic (largely as a result of a daily barrage of media propaganda) there's certainly an argument for legislation in this area, however with widespread public acceptance of the idea that 'the obese' deserve their punishment I can't ever see it happening.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It is what you get when have a nation of people whose only interest is themselves and how the look.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I agree that something has gone drastically wrong in our society when children as young as 5 have body image problems, but disagree wholeheartedly that this should be tackled in schools. Many teachers spend far too much time already being surrogate parents and social workers because a high proportion of today's "parents" haven't got a clue and have no business bringing children into the world.

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "The possible amending of the Equality Act to include appearance-related discrimination"

    And how would you enforce such a ban? Sorry we didnt turn you down for the job as a sports therapist because your 22 stone we wanted someone with more experience really.cough cough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I thought this is something the parents should teach...

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Advertising is EVERYWHERE if you go to London, watch tv, and then on top of that kids read celeb mags. Brainwashing from every angle - how this cannot affect children???
    I personally find it very tiring traveling to London, where I am force fed sexual images on every corner, and deliberately made feel inadequate by the advertisers...

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Chaired presumably by Eric Pickles

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Maybe the powers that be should target the media and fashion industry for their image obsession, especially with the 'perfect woman'. Children only want to be like their idols.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    No wonder the English national cirriculum is oversubscribed and underperforming.

    Civic duty lessons, self image lessons, religious lessons.

    Why dont we concentrate on what really matters - science, engineering, mathematics, arts, technology.

    That way we might even have an economy to worry about in 5 years time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Maybe schools should teach children what a normal human body should look like.
    Children might then recognise that anorexic or overweight is abnormal.
    Then they could be taught how to return to normality.


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