More than half the British public suffers from a negative body image, an inquiry by MPs has been told.
The problem is so bad that girls as young as five now worry about their size and appearance, with children in danger of picking up their parents’ body-related anxieties, their report said.
The Reflections on Body Image report, published by MPs and the health charity Central YMCA following a three-month inquiry, found negative body image was seen as an underlying cause of health and relationship problems, a key contributor to low self-esteem and a major barrier to participation in school and progression at work.
The report, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) identified a growing amount of evidence that body image dissatisfaction was on the increase, with the issue seen to be one affecting all of society regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, body size or shape.
Cosmetic surgery rates have increased by nearly 20% since 2008 and the media, advertising industry and the cult of celebrity are all to blame for driving the obsession with appearance, the report warned.
Programmes including The Only Way Is Essex and The X Factor were singled out as being seen to focus ‘too much on the way people look’.
Children and adolescents were seen to be more vulnerable to body image concerns as appearance is also the greatest cause of bullying in schools, evidence suggested.
Around half of girls and up to one third of boys have dieted to lose weight and children and young people with body image dissatisfaction were less likely to engage in learning and participation in school, the report said.
All pupils should have compulsory lessons on body image, MPs said.
The report also recommends that:
- patients who want cosmetic surgery like breast enlargements should have to undergo rigorous mental health checks before being allowed the procedure.
- calling someone “fatty” or “obese” should be considered a hate crime on a par with racism or homophobia.
The inquiry heard that health issues attributed to excess body weight may be overstated meanwhile because body mass index, the measure commonly used, was seen to be an inaccurate way of classifying all individuals and their health risks.