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 315.

    What a load of rubbish! Self-esteem classes in schools! One can only imagine the sort of PC stuff that will be 'taught', probably along the lines of "it's fine to be fat" etc. a la Gok Wan. It is the parents' duty to boost their children's self confidence so that they want to put in the effort to look good.
    The constant pussyfooting around such issues does nothing to raise people's self-esteem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    A decent start. I'd carry it over into an 'anti-fat' campaign like the anti-smoking one.
    Also PROMOTE:
    Active lifestyles (kids and adults)
    Healthy food

    'Junk' food (e.g. saturated fats & refined sugar)
    Large food portion sizes
    Size 0 models
    Airbrushed images of people
    Of course these won't get banned - the Capitalists make too much cash out of selling junk food and junk magazines

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    @ 309.Northern1

    For the record, GCSE RE is not a useless subject. I studied Islam as part of my GCSE 10 years ago and I now work in mining all over the world including the middle east and the RE lessons I had have made it much, much easier to understand what's going on. I'd put it up there with Maths and Physics as the GCSEs i've found most useful in later life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Confusing; while many British women dress as if they've just escaped from a circus, or couldn't make their mind up if to wear a dress or jeans, so they wear both (LOL) they, or some, are concerned about the shape of their bodies !! Happily my frequent trips to the Continent reaquaint me with female style, chic and fashion, whatever the form of their bodies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    Well bless my soul with all the problems confronting this country of ours such as the economy (or lack of it) NHS reform,pensions,police et al what are MP's concerned about...body image!
    What a lot of totally vacuous superfluous nonsense.
    How about concentrating on teaching kids something useful like how to work out compound interest on loans.Read,write,form a sentence.
    Something useful perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    My daughter's PE teacher is morbidly obese. What message does that send out?
    "No point exercising, look at her. I'll try dieting instead."

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Any such lessons will likely be treated like RE or PSHE, that is to say a complete waste of time.

    It's not going to get you into university, it's not going to counter the accepted standards of beauty and it certainly isnt going to make you taller, slimmer, more muscular or better looking. You are what you are.

    You can't teach that. It's called growing up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    This is blurring two issues:
    !) is the people who have a false image of themselves such as anorexia
    2) bullying

    Bullying is more general than appearance as someone who was seriously bullied at the age of 5 I am well aware that it is any difference which can lead to bullying.

    Intelligence is a common one - if you take the stats of Oxford most ppl have been bullied at school

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    "yes but Mayna, yours is not the only situation. You said it would possibly be the better situation."

    "possibly be" is the important thing, I did not say "was" but suggested a course of action from many which could be offered - one that worked for me& that is why I offered it. Wither it is appropriate or not is for anther to decide in their own situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.


    Have you learned nothing from 13 years of a Labour government? We do NOT need anymore people on the public sector payroll! We can't afford it!

    My mum yo yo dieted for years, and was once weight watchers dieter of the year. Yet she still taught me two brothers and a sister how to respect ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Maybe if politicians kept their noses out of matters which do not concern them, we could have sensible schooling.
    Government are meant to just provide the service we use, not criticise for no reason.
    Constant propaganda from government has removed freedom of choice.
    Keep advice on behaviour or looks to yourself MPs. If we need advice on personal issues, we will ask mum or dad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    HooHum create jobs for people who can teach this type of subject. Parents weren't taught body image/self esteem at school when they were kids. So how do you expect them to teach their kids? A lot of kids are wanting to diet when they are not even overweight, it's worrying . Kids are influenced by outside sources, not just their parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    How come the one's problems are always somebody else's fault?

    A child has low self-esteem - bash the media; a GP pointing out to a child's parent her offspring weight issues - complain, silly doctor doesn't know what curvy means these days; didn't do well at school - that's the govt failed ya!

    And yes, when someone says things that you don't fancy, it's bullying.Oops

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    If they're serious about this I'd like to volunteer to spend a year with Holly Willabooby touring schools giving these 'body image' lessons ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    yes but Mayna, yours is not the only situation. You said it would possibly be the better situation. i am just focusing on looking at the whole picture. It doesn't stop the bullies. I wish the 'lady in question' all the luck and help she deserves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    Great idea! 'Cos teachers have nothing else to do.

    Really though, when did teachers become a surrogate parents?

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Children of 5 are being weighed at school. It is common knowledge now for parents to get letters home to say their children are overweight and should take action. Perhaps this is also where the stats come from? Most children are not overweight, but health visitors at schools believe they are. Parents are then probably over worrying their children over this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    Are british MP still taking image and communication lessons paid by the taxpayers? I remember seeing it on TV about 6 years ago...

    I think this is a far bigger issue since you are paying for your representatives to learn how to lie to you.
    I don't want to know what will happen if you teach your children the same way. "Image" is not about revealing the truth, it is about altering it to fit you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    "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"

    Agreed, but as I mentioned I spoke from my experiences only so will obviously defer to you in this situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    I've had someone who I consider to be "super self consious" person. She, myself and my dad went climbing the other day and while my dad and I climbed, she watched. The issue was that when we got back to the car, she was the one complaining of leg ache from the walk to and from the cliff. if you have to be super slim to be sexy then I'd rather be an ugly climber.


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