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 55.

    In the words of the great Elle Woods...."exercise gives you endorphins...endorphins make you happy...happy people just don't [have body image problems to the same degree]" Surely promotion of sport and healthy, moderate lifestyles has got to be better than patronising kids

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Some of these comments are really annoying me! It's not just 'fat' children who have the problem! My daughter went through puberty at an early age, in her final year in primary she was bullied as she had outgrown her 'friends'. She certainly wasn't and isn't fat she just has the body of an adult. But now believes she is what these people have called her and its a battle to convince her otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    It is time to realise that schools cannot be expected to fix all society's problems. They should focus on education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Accept yourself and be who you are. Forget make-up, hair dye and body shaping clothing and just acknowledge that these things turn you into a clone, rather than an individual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I have met a few children (mainly girls) who say they are on diets and they are not overweight at all. These kind of children do need some guidance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I think the self esteem lessons are a great idea. I was very shy at school and struggled in lessons and with socialising. I am taking self esteem lessons now to help me in my adult life. Wish it was around when i was at school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Lessons about body image will only increase discrimination. There will be far more bullying and teasing aimed at those who look different. By drawing attention to something, differences become more visible. I think this whole thing is an excuse to standardize appearance. Supermarket fruit 'n' veg and the EU rules spring to mind.

  • Comment number 48.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Had to be a LibDem, didn't it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Again "do it in schools" is the panacea for all the ills of our society. It hasn't work for other issues, it won't work for this one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    it was called pt or pe when i was a lad..may be the world as moved on too fast in the corporate and celeb stakes.perhaps it has left many of our citizens with low self esteem, a yearning to be that which is out of reach?we need to eradicate poverty and create fairness and the chance and oppotunity to share in the fruits of capitalism,alas the two are not compatible..

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    What a load of guff. The media is responsible, tackle them. Try getting them to put LARGE disclaimers of photoshopped images as a start. If somebody is overweight (I am) they can go on a diet (like I am doing).

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Constantly preaching to kids about the 'importance' of being the 'correct' weight, as advocated by one of the Breakfast guests, is in fact a huge part of the problem; healthy lifestyle messages should be framed without the current focus on 'obesity'. Kids grow at different rates, fat is not always 'bad', 'unhealthy' or even the result of the 'wrong' choices. Keep diet culture OUT of our schools!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

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

    Yes, but there is a clear causal link between our media and eating disorders, so I don't know that identifying the problem is enough. You only have to look at countries where Western media has only just been available to see eating disorders go from nonexistent to through the roof.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    You know, if you REALLY want an ideal body - given that you have all your parts in tact - you, like I, can work our butts off and get a flat tummy and bulging abs etc if you really want to.
    Nobody is responsible for your, or my fantasies. Not even the government or schools.
    Another "out of touch" and no doubt "distorted by the media" statement of imaginary public policy that does nothing useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    It's a shame that the magazine industry has escaped suitable scrutiny and moderation. It's widely accepted magazines contribute significantly to society's perceptions regarding body image.

    There will be little point in running: "...long-term campaigns that reflect consumer desire for authenticity and diversity.". If they are drowned out by a greater volume of airbrushed, idealised images.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "School children need body image lessons - MPs" BBC.

    Surely more proof if it were needed that our 'elected representatives' have been reduced to arguing over trivia, while our 'real' & unelected govt in Brussels (Barosso, van Rumpy, various faceless 'commissioners') makes the big decisions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Twaddle, another waste of time and space. This should be tackled through the media who know well they can make huge adjustments in attitudes and social skills. So if the gov wants to get this across, get all those media leaders in and tell 'em.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    "One in five people have been victimised because of their weight"

    So the answer ? Get them to lose weight by eating less and running around more ?

    Oh no - give them lessons telling them there is nothing wrong their weight and it's just that other's are being nasty to them.

    Teach them to be "Fat And Proud" !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    We get the BMA and every other medical group, the BBC and other pressure groiups telling us that we are all fat and must loose weight. You have a fashion industry that promotes Belsen like images as being good. Now yoiu decide that our children are getting screwed up and need Phsycologists.
    Now you are surprised???


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