Body image anxiety damages society – Jo Swinson MP

New report shows over half of the public suffer from negative body image[i]

The report published today by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image, chaired by Jo Swinson MP East Dunbartonshire and Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, reveals that negative body image affects more than half of the public.

Negative body image is seen as an underlying cause of health and relationship problems, a key contributor to low self-esteem and a major barrier to participation. The problem is so acute that girls as young as five now worry about their size and appearance[ii], half of girls and one quarter of boys believe their peers have body image problems[iii], and appearance is the largest cause of bullying in schools[iv].

The report was co-authored by a cross party group of MPs and health and education charity, Central YMCA. The response to the three-month public inquiry co-ordinated by the APPG showed that together media (43.5%), advertising (16.8%) and celebrity culture (12.5%) account for almost three quarters of the influence on body image in society[v], yet the “body ideal” that they typically present was estimated to not be physically achievable by nearly 95% of the population[vi].

Jo Swinson will write to the Scottish Government to urge them to take action on a number of recommendations. Central YMCA will now take forward the report’s recommendations in a UK wide campaign, to be launched in partnership with several other organisations. The campaign will include the creation of a brand, or “kite mark”, which will be awarded to socially responsible businesses taking action to tackle negative body image.

Jo Swinson MP, Chair of the APPG said:

“Body image dissatisfaction in the UK has reached an all time high and the pressure to conform to an unattainable body ideal is wreaking havoc on the self-esteem of many people. Our inquiry took evidence from academics, the public, industry, charities and other experts, whose submissions formed the basis for the recommendations in the report. I welcome the work of Central YMCA and other organisations in taking these recommendations forward.”

Feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy are causing many people to sacrifice health for appearance. The inquiry heard that:

  • Getting rid of dieting could wipe out 70% of eating disorders[vii].
  • More than 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost[viii]
  • By the age of 14 half of girls and one third of boys have been on a diet to change their body shape[ix],
  • 1.6m people in the UK suffer from eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.[x]
  • Up to 1 in 5 cosmetic surgery patients could suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder[xi]
  • Girls who diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat and weight loss attempts can increase eating disorders by 18%[xii].
  • One in five people have been victimised because of their weight[xiii]

The report makes a series of recommendations targeted at policy-makers, healthcare professionals, industry and the education sector, designed to change public perceptions, attitudes and behavioural patterns. These include:

  • The building of body image initiatives into the HMIe inspection framework
  • Introduction of mandatory lessons on body image in primary and secondary schools in the Education Scotland curriculum
  • Commitment from advertisers to develop campaigns that reflect consumer desire for authenticity and diversity
  • Explore alternatives to the use of BMI alone as a measurement of health
  • Teaching colleges to include body image and self-esteem within training for new teachers
  • Support for new mothers and for primary and secondary school pupils
  • A review of broadcast and editorial codes on reporting body-related issues
  • A separate code of regulations governing cosmetic surgery advertising
  • Mandatory screening of patients prior to them undergoing cosmetic surgery and further research to assess the long-term impact on patients’ psychological wellbeing

The full report can be accessed here:


[i] Centre for Appearance Research (2012)

[ii] British Journal of Developmental Psychology (2005)

[iii] Centre for Appearance Research/Central YMCA (2011)

[iv] National Bullying Survey (2006)

[v] Responses to online consultation (APPG on Body Image, 2012)

[vi] Sex Roles, 1999, Gender differences in population versus media body sizes

[vii] Comment from Dr Adrienne Key, Royal College of Psychiatrists during evidence session, 28 November 2011

[viii] PubMed, Mann. T et al, 2007 and comment from Professor Susie Orbach during evidence session, 16 January 2012

[ix] Centre for Appearance Research/CYMCA (2011)

[x] B-eat

[xi] Veale, D, PostGradMed 2004

[xii] BMJ, Patton et al, 1999

[xiii] Co-operative (2011)

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