School children need body image lessons - MPs

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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Why is the media so obsessed with anorexia yet ignore obesity? Walk through any city centre in the UK and you might notice obese people (men, women, boys and girls) outnumber anorexics and the underweight about 100 to 1!

    It seems it has become politically incorrect to even mention obesity nowadays even when it's a much greater problem and costs the NHS far more than anorexia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Some people are harping on about blame the parents and school is about academic studies only. if the parents only learned academic subjects when they were kids. How do you expect them to teach their children about body image and self esteem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    Will people please stop blaming the media. If the masses didn't want to see attractive people, they'd stop showing us them. They're business and respond to demand.

    Parents have a responsibility to bring their children up in a culture of acceptance and understanding of others. It is not a schools job to make children decent human beings, just to make them useful ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    This is not needed, but more exercise in schools and encouraging healthy eating is. PE lessons for primary schools rarely seem to involve much physical exercise, and while my daughter is forced to take a healthy plate of food at lunch time, she is then free to throw it all away. In my day a dinner lady decided when you had eaten enough of the vegetables on your plate, not a 5 year old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Again I agree with all you are saying - it's definietly not black and white. The point I was making was that help is around - it seems clear that for you this help didn't materialise and that is sad/unfortunate, but where I would disagree is that school lessons will much improve the chance of that help being there for the next person that needs it. There are better solutions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    So that everybody is clear, schools already teach students about issues such as body image, changes to your body through puberty, healthy eating etc, etc. Look at a schools PSHEE policy to see everything that is covered. Remember though, the main measure of a school success is the number of A-Cs in Maths and English. Schools only have kids for 950 hours out of 8766 in a year, they can't do it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    229.RLRL3011 - very blinkered comment and extremely blinkered person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Of course parents have a duty care to make sure their kids are healthy, eat the right food, exercise & set a good example. That's a different issue though.

    An overweight kid in an overweight family, shielded from the outside world is probably not going to have an body image problem.

    If a healthy average kid does have a body image problem then it's unlikey to be caused at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    #7 has it exactly. This is all down to messages sent by media. On the one hand children will be taught 'you're fine the way you are', and on the other they will continue to see screens where the vast majority of people look better than they do. I predict the lessons will be more confusion than cure -- what people don't understand is that kids =see the media as their real school=.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Better to leave the schools carry on with English, maths and sciences,
    Schools have always has a wider remit than this. I dont agree with this particular proposal, but teaching kids life skills (e.g. how to cook and eat healthily) has to be good for our society as a whole.
    Kids with crap parents also need education in these skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    It's impossible for children and adults alike to escape media images of sanitised picture perfect presentations to sell any product. Advertising plays and preys on our subconscious insecurities - always has.

    There's nothing wrong with the desire to look and feel good. The problem today lies with a constant barrage of unattainable images never experienced by previous generations en masse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Am I missing the point? If children are overweight, isn't it right that they should have a body image issue? Being overweight isn't normal - they should feel that they need to change for their own health benefits as well as being less of a future burden on society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    "Fattitude." Well coined, Grimlock (240)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    We need more public schools . They dont feed you well and the diet seems to work !

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    The role of schools has become more and more blurred and they will end up not being able to do anything well. I think it's down to parents to nurture a good sense of self BUT also to help their children achieve and maintain a positive and healthy weight. It's firstly a health issue. I also don't want these classes to be an excuse to be 'any shape you want'. Fat is not healthy, full stop!

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Smoking is unhealthy and costs the country billions: Bad
    Alcoholism is unhealthy and costs the country billions: Bad
    Obesity is unhealthy and costs the country billions: Acceptable and if you disagree you're evil

    This fattitude they have is disgusting and hypocritical.
    If you want to improve body image simply ban the use of photoshop on magazine pics

    Move more, eat less

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    I'm not sure schools have the capacity to deal with this. It is however cognitively difficult to learn 'traditional subjects' if one is suffering physically OR emotionally. What genuinely concerns and disgusts me are the people ridiculing the anxieties of young people...

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

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

    Then tackle those with the eating disorders!

    Don't come up with some unworkable and unnecessary blanket, focus group, headline grabbing, sound-bite policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    If people are so strongly affected by the media, how come there arent random outbreaks on the streets of panel quiz shows?

    Educating children into how advertising\mass media use images and manipulate them is more beneficial as it has the knock on effect of educating on body image whilst actually teaching them something useful; rather than trying to implant opinions. Don't mind control my kids!

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    I have seen articles in magazines telling me I must be proud of my body no matter what shape right next to fashion shoots with stick thin models and adverts about plastic surgey and diets products. How exactly does this help impressionable young people ? Accept yourself for what you are but you SHOULD look like this ? No wonder people are confused.


Page 7 of 19


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.