Body Anxiety Traps Millions in Poor Health

Posted on Oct 13, 2014

Figures released today reveal that the pressure of trying to achieve an unrealistic ‘ideal body’ is trapping millions of people in the UK in an unhealthy cycle of depression, short-term dieting, cosmetic intervention and eating disorders.

  • 16 million people in the UK 'depressed' due to the way they think they look

  • 18 million people do not exercise due to body anxiety

  • One in four say body image has held them back from a fulfilling relationship and one in five have avoided going for a job they wanted

  • New campaign launches to build a body confident nation

The findings mark the start of Body Confidence Week and the launch of Be Real: Body Confidence for Everyone, a new campaign to change attitudes to body image and help people put health above appearance.

Be Real has been created to stop the physical and mental health impacts that low body confidence has on people of all ages. Sixteen million people currently feel depressed due to how they look, 1.6 million live with an eating disorder and 18 million do not exercise because of body anxiety.

A quarter of those surveyed said they struggled to keep up exercise and diet regimes, and a fifth said they skip meals to lose weight. A third said they return to their previous weight after dieting, indicating that a short-term, quick fix mindset is stopping individuals from achieving long-term healthy lifestyles.

More than one in seven people have considered cosmetic interventionsvii and almost a fifth of 18-24 year olds are currently taking muscle building supplements to improve the way they look.

Be Real's research suggests the way people feel they look is having a detrimental impact on their personal relationships and achievements. A quarter say their body image has held them back from having a fulfilling relationship, one in four say they have avoided speaking out at school or in a meeting due to body issues and a fifth say anxiety around the way they look has stopped them going for the job they wanted.

Be Real has been founded in partnership with Dove and is coordinated by YMCA. It is sponsored by All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, bareMinerals, Debenhams, Facebook, Forster Communications, Government Equalities Office, N Brown, New Look, Superdrug and YMCA. It was formed in response to the 2012 Reflections on Body Image report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image and responds to the growing urgency for change.

Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the APPG for Body Image, says: "Low body confidence is a critical public health issue that we cannot ignore. It affects everyone – all ages, both sexes – and starts as young as five years old. Be Real wants to change attitudes to body image, and help all of us, whatever our size, ethnicity or ability, to put health above appearance and be confident with how we look and feel.

She continues: "Through this campaign, we're driving change through three priority areas. We want to ensure children and young people are educated about body confidence from an early age, to promote healthy living and wellbeing over weight loss and appearance, and to encourage the media, business and advertisers to recognise diversity and positively reflect what we really look like."

Almost three quarters of adults agree the UK is suffering from a body confidence epidemicxii and 50 percent of people think issues relating to body image are increasing. Over half the population say they feel powerless about society's obsession with looksxiii and by uniting schools, businesses, charities, public bodies and individuals, Be Real wants to change this and help everyone to celebrate real, healthy and diverse bodies.

Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of youth charity YMCA England, says: "Too often the way we look becomes a measure of who we are and there is a growing pressure to achieve an aesthetic ideal that few of us can live up to. When we feel bad about how we look, we make bad choices about our health and are stopped from achieving our full potential. We are seeing this amongst young people, both boys and girls, across the country and urgently need to help them become confident about who they are and what they look like."

Mark Bleathman, VP Brand Building at Unilever, the campaign's founding partner says: "At Dove, we are committed to building a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. Through the work of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, we create educational resources for young people to help inspire them to feel good about their appearance and to reach their potential in life. Working with the Be Real Campaign, we will continue to champion a broader, more inclusive definition of beauty."