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 295.

    This message is for Mayna. Holding up a mirror, and telling yourself you are stronger? Yes she has had some kind of help in that subject. However it is only addressing her end of the situation. The bullies need educating too. Being beaten up physically, by bullies who are not getting help, not being taken out of school by it. Only the 'victim' was. The solution needs to be addressed all round.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Most of the MP's could use to shed a few pounds themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    This can't be fixed by lessons - you can't stop bullying by saying being different OK

    How are you supposed to teach body image. The fact is that appearance correlates with success in jobs that have no requirement of such. & that was before reality TV removed all requirements for highest skill.

    Need to show children you can succeed on merit and this isn't achieved by analysing healthy body image

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Children do not need self-esteem lessons rather they need to learn its not right to discriminate against someone because how they look.

    But when it comes to children being overweight the government could do more by teaching what is and how to cook healthy food plus more p.e.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Says it all in the 4th para.

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

    How about, just for once in this country, politicians do something about the problem not the symptom. Body image lessons indeed.

    BTW - All Party Parliamentary Group on body image. Whose manifesto was that in then. I don't remember voting for that!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    GeoSquared I couldn't agree more. School is just about uniforming & grooming kids to work in their adult life. Some people don't seem to understand that kids do have feelings, are influenced easily by outside messages, and this does effect their learning at school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    @286 If a child is much too fat or much too thin they're usually very unhappy with themselves. Any help towards getting a happy healthy mind can help towards getting a happy healthy body.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    With a daughter in primary school I was pretty angry when she came home & asked if she needed to go on a diet? This was a result of playground talk & bullying of one over-weight girl. We discussed it at family evening meal & school addressed this as part of PSHE. Best thing to do is ban underweight size 0 models, stop airbrushing photos & start using healthy sized models.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    I feel obliged to say children are not robots that you can program the way you want them. They are the future of humanity, and you don't want a future army of salesmen, trained to hide their weaknesses and promote their strenghts.We need a generation to undo our mistakes(individualism, environment, injustice etc.) who are critical of the ways we do things and you won't get it by training salesmen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I thought we wanted obese people to lose weight? Why give them counselling which would condition them to be happy and accept whatever size or shape they are? It's counterproductive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    If its not being too fat, too thin etc children will find some other difference to ridicule each other, the clothes they wear, the way they talk, the friends they have. I think we should stop teaching much of this lifestyle rubbish which often makes the problem worse, for now they are aware. As an ex-teacher myself I think schools should spend more time teaching kids how to read and write properly

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    More time and money waisted... Just tell them when they start "people come in all shapes and sizes", and be done with it... If a child is becoming too fat or too skinny, that is a matter for their parents or doctor not school. English, Maths, Science, History, Geography and PE that is what school should be, the rest is just jobs for teaching assistants... The world has gone mad...!

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    justforsighs. Holding up a mirror, and telling yourself you are stronger? Yes she has had some kind of help in that subject. However it is only addressing her end of the situation. The bullies need educating too. Being beaten up physically, by bullies who are not getting help, not being taken out of school by it. Only the victim was, is not helping the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Please, please would our schools focus on proper lessons on basic skills: reading, writing, maths and computing! Then maybe we could compete on the world stage. Body image classes are a complete waste of the taxpayers' money - our kids have enough to worry about already, without fuelling a body image neuroses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    I do believe that lessons in body image may actually work. I struggled with my weight throughout my childhood, and clearly remember feeling upset at comments made by my peers, and reassurance from my parents falling on deaf ears.

    Body image issues are too often suffered in silence. These lessons may encourage children to communicate their concerns more, and not just about their weight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Doctors are taught next to nothing about nutrition and weight control. I have just lost 30% of my body weight with no help from my doctors - they didn't even know how many calories I should be eating, let alone how to advise me on basics such as protein intake. They know nothing about the all-important psychology of weight loss, and are equally clueless with patients with eating disorders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    "(imho) This is not an example of a better solution."

    I would tend to agree with you, and suggest holding a mirror up so she sees her strengths in the situation and the weakness of the bullies (that individually she is stronger/more capable than them) would (potentially) have been a better solution. But that is just a personal opinion from personal experience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Most people have to be made aware that their bodies do not cosmetically match that of "ideal" models as seen in advertising .Most of us have to accept the simple fact that we're just plain Josephine's and Joe's , be content with our lot and get on with our lives .Though it has to be said that, unfortunately , the most atractive people get all the help and attention throughout life - fact !

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    first there was good citizens

    now body image and self kind to yourself

    we've just taken the fizzy drinks machine out of the school but the kid are still attracted to the fast food joints at lunch time and after school!

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    Very worrying that girls as young as 5 are body conscious! Any steps the Government or other organisations can take to address this can only be of benefit. Any concerned parents may want to ask an expert for help in this NHS Choices online clinic on weight this weeek.


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