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 75.

    What we need is to encourage an inclusive, understanding and accepting society that can accept everyone for whoever they are and whatever they look like. I suffered in my younger life and now I suffer with a lot of psychological/depression problems. Simply teaching a lesson is not enough because society as a whole encourages the wrong values.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

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

    Well no, that would just further reinforce the idea that they deserved to be victimised for their weight, and also display a startling ignorance about the nature of self-image and eating disorders. That's not to say obesity isn't a problem, but it doesn't have much to do with this issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    It annoys me every time I see in the media about children returning home from school, with a letter / note saying to their parents that their child is obese when there is NOT an ounce of fat on them and they eat heathly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    You joke ! What a load of rubbish this is, give kids lessons on thinking they are entitled to be clones of the rich and famous ? Get real, better to teach them not to stuff themselves with food and alcohol or to behave as though the world owed them a living. Moral education might also help, and the fact that only working for a living pays dividends.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Well, does this really come as a surprise? The media continues to push the boundaries ever wider to capture their audiences, while children suffer through reduced parental guidance and control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Forget the self esteem lessons & ensure they do PE instead. Round my way on a Wednesday lunchtime you see hordes of the little darlings bunking off & hitting the burger bars/KFCs at 1.00pm-ish instead of the usual 3.30pm. The only exercise they are getting is their right arm transferring hunks of saturated fat & lard from hand to mouth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Because you look the part doesn't mean you can do the job better than anyonne else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    The "Hello" culture where a certain look is far more important than achievement, personality and citizenship is the root cause of this issue. A supposedly highbrow paper - the Observer - has Cheryl Tweedy, no angel, on its colour supplement front page. Cheryl's a singer, apparently, but is seized upon by the media as a fashion icon. Cut it out of the media and the role models will disappear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Whilst it may be beneficial to help children with their self confidence I feel this is another vehicle to make children more aware of how they look or think they should look. I'm not sure it's a good idea to teach this in school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    I assume the economy is now OK if resources can be wasted on this.
    Misery is part of the human condition, that’s how it is.
    MP’s bar must serve something stronger than my local.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Governments are funny people

    First they slag off religion...

    Then they invent the Ministry of Purity of Mind and Body...

    That Norwegian guy Breivik said as part of his raving mass murder justification that liberalism had become a religion imposed upon the people and I did wonder at the time what he was on about

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    something else that will be cumbersome to administer, expensive to fund and unnecessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

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

    So if I were to ask a woman out and she turned me down because she thinks I'm fat and ugly, can I take her to court and claim compensation ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I have an eating disorder which in part was caused by my ex husbands horrible comments about me which were bad especially considering i was 9 and a half stones and am 5 ft 7 i am now nine stones and managing it with the help of my current husband, friends and a support group but what about the magazines that show skinny models and constantly go on about diet tips, get a beach body etc????

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Children in Primary School should only be taught the basics. Reading, writing, and arithmatic for the first 3 years in school. This is before any interfering education authority or government step in. Also the use of calculators should be banned untill the last 3 years of secondary school, unless the use of a scientific calculator is needed for complex sums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This kind of thing should be down to the parents.

    Another stupid idea from parliament.


  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    For gods sake they are kids try treating them as such instead of treating them as adults from the day they are born.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    The core issue here is to love ourselves and each other as we are.

    Ignore the 'look good' adverts as they are using poeples insecurities to manipulate money.

    Our health is obviously something that needs to be nurtured and encouraged in all it's forms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    If kids got enough exercise at school it wouldn't matter what they ate or saw in a magazine.
    Mother nature would do her job and she knows better than all of us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I was a fat teenager. My parents told me to stop eating so much, they controlled my food intake and taught me about a healthy, balanced diet. They taught me about the food I was eating and did all they could to get me active. This is rare today. Today I would have been told I had a eating disorder. Today I would have woken to the BBC asking 'can being called fat be compared to racism?'.BONKERS!


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