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 355.

    I'm amazed we have any problems at all in the UK when there are so many experts who are willing to share their wisdom on here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    We have been saying this for years. If it is getting worse, then we blame the prudification of society. The recommendations of the Bailey report and others like it, having been based on prejudice rather than facts, only serve to worsen these problems. Some people still believe that Naturism is not for children, yet the facts show that it is a powerful remedy for this body-image problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    So a few roleplays and a couple of worksheets and everything will be OK. If all families, communities and society in general truly valued young people for who they really are they would have greater self esteem and this would not be such an issue. Its not a lack of PHSE (or whatever the latest names for these lessons is) thay is causing the problem; its far deeper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Perhaps we're taking this issue too seriously.

    I thought there was already a code of conduct amongst clothing retailers whereby they agree not to sell women's clothing in anything less than a size 8.

    I've had confidence issues before and I know first hand that friends and family are the best source of advice and encouragement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    1. Body image lessons means fewer lessons on something else (even if it's only a couple). The report needs to identify what they are. After all, there are many things we would like to include in the curriculum but we don't because of time. Why should this be an exception?

    2. If we provide body image lessons then don't we send the signal that this is important? Isn't that counterproductive?

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Unbelieveable; and we wonder why the obesity crisis is getting worse in the UK, with moves like this to encourage blind acceptance of obesity. 61% of Britons are overweight and around a quarter are clinically obese, up from ~7% in the 80s. The National Audit Office estimates obesity costs the NHS at least £500m/yr, and the economy £2bn/yr in lost productivity. 30k/yr obesity related deaths in UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    this body image thing could be stopped in its tracks if the celebs and media , would show folk how they really are , not all the under the knife and botox horrors . the mags have a lot to answer for and some mothers for indulging the children with the latest fashion what happened to childhood .

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    Eating disorders, dieting, body dysmorphia - don't belong in general curriculum where it might serve to create as many problems as it addresses. Rather, it belongs in confidential school counselling services which should have set referral channel to psychiatric support. Children with problems usually come from homes with parental problems, which can include abusive situations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    i was made fun of because of my weight all throughout elementary school. now in the tenth grade, i am of average weight. the only problem is that whenever i see my belly bulge out naturally after a large meal, i become paranoid. it's the parents' job to monitor self-esteem and weight, and the school's job to reprimand students who bully others due to weight and body image.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.


    Yet that's still only one aspect. I'm a comfort eater/food addict too. It's a mind set. I once lost weight through controlling what I ate and did exercise but underlying issues that made me see myself as fat, ugly, worthless, useless, pathetic never went away. My image of myself didn't change and I fell back in to bad habits as I became more miserable about my life and how I saw myself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    Can't help but wonder what kind of questions they'd ask in a "Body Image" GCSE... Maybe:

    Fat is most acceptable when lining:
    A. The heart.
    B. The brain.
    C. The buttocks.
    D. The hips.
    E. The abdomen.


  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    More crap for the teachers to perform. When anything goes wrong the firest cry is the remedy should be in the hands of teachers. Obesity, antisocial behaviour, potty training, respect classes, etc etc etc , what time does it leave teachers to actually teach the 3r's. No wonder 1 in 5 children are leaving school with below average reading and writing skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Listed in recommendations from article:

    'Using "weight-neutral" language for public health messages'

    Not sure how this is supposed to work in a supposed obesity crisis.
    While it is not easy - it is possible to control your body in terms of being overweight with exercise.

    As for amending the equality act - most discrimination carries little stigma but claiming you were fired for being too ugly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Im a Brit living in Belgium and have lived in Germany too. Have never heard body image problems over here and there is far less media censorship probably because the vast majority of people ride a bike a few times a week and people are slimmer in general. If your kid has a problem with weight buy them a bike and encourage healthy living. Stop blaming other people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    Wiping out dieting could stop 70% of eating disorders. What about the diet industry - worth billions? Will it roll over & play dead? What about fact: dieting is not usually about food/weight; it's about lack of control, feeling pathetic & worthless. Where will the psychiatric support come from? Without such support don't look for people to stop dieting. The underlying causes must be rooted out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    The inquiry heard that "More than 95% of people on diets regain the weight they lose"
    People regain weight because they approach it in the wrong way. It has to be done gradually as part of a process to permanently adjust eating habits where they learn how to meet their dietary needs with a healthier choice of food and monitor the amount they eat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Dysmorphia would represent a problem that would need counseling.

    However, other lessons are supposed to say what:
    its fine no matter what you body shape
    or this is how you change your body shape.

    Neither line works well the problem is in making your body image an important issue. But you will never get a 30 stone bald man to be treated like Brad Pitt. Trying to teach people otherwise will fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Reviewing the evidence base that supports dieting. Not good enough. Most eating disorders are NOT about food; they are about non-acceptance, aloneness, wanting to literally "fit" in.
    They can also be about bullying.
    It is also an established fact that many "dieters" have been abused such that they want to take control over at least one aspect of their life - eating or not eating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Would it be so awful to amend the industry regulations to insist that only people with a healthy BMI are allowed to be signed by modelling agencies?

    It would prevent hundreds of would-be models starving themselves to death in an attempt to get represented, and would go miles in preventing promotion of poor body images - whether male or female, whether too thin or too fat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    "Requiring advertisers to run long-term campaigns that reflect consumer desire for 'authenticity & diversity'. Not good enough: Stop advertising for products that are not very nutritious, but very psychologically soothing - like cream puffs or ice-cream, and also ads aimed at young children.
    Stop advertising from using ridiculously anorexic types. Ads are a seriously large part of the problem.


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