In young people, body dissatisfaction has been linked to risk-taking behaviours and mental health problems. One survey of UK adolescents by Be Real found that 36% agreed they would do ‘whatever it took’ to look good, with 57% saying they had considered going on a diet, and 10% saying they had considered cosmetic surgery. Among secondary school boys, 10% said they would consider taking steroids to achieve their goals.
Poor body image may also prevent young people from engaging in healthy behaviours, with some studies finding that children with poorer body image are less likely to take part in physical activity and survey data from Be Real finding that 36% of girls and 24% of boys report avoiding taking part in activities like physical education due to worries about their appearance. Among adolescents, research has found that those with greater body appreciation are less likely to diet or use alcohol or cigarettes.
Body dissatisfaction and a pressure to be thin have been linked to depressive symptoms and symptoms of anxiety disorders such as social anxiety or panic disorder, particularly in those children who do not match societal views of the ‘ideal body’. Some studies have found that weight and body mass index (BMI) are correlated with body dissatisfaction, with youth people who are overweight or obese reporting greater depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem than their peers.
Research conducted with young women also found a higher likelihood of suicidal thoughts among those women who reported extreme weight control behaviours (e.g. taking diet pills, diuretics or laxatives, with an additional study suggesting that body image concerns may be a risk factor for self-harm behaviour among young people who are experiencing emotional difficulties.
BODY IMAGE IS A COMPLEX, AND OFTEN VERY PERSONAL, EXPERIENCE.