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How common are body image concerns?

In this article, the Mental Health Foundation discusses the prevalence of body image concerns in adults, as well as children and young people.
Visual representation of the Foundation's Body Image Report (2019) results, looking at feelings associated with body image in adults.

Body image is relevant for all people, from youth through to later life. In fact, as a society, a great deal of importance is placed on appearance.

The British Social Attitudes Survey (2014) found that:

  • Nearly half of adults (47%) feel that ‘how you look affects what you can achieve in life’.
  • Around a third (32%) felt that ‘your value as a person depends on how you look’.

NB: The Foundation’s Body Image Report (2019) interviewed respondents who were already engaging, to some extent, with the Foundation’s work on the topic of mental health. For this reason, it could be argued that the survey results are skewed towards populations with a higher prevalence of mental health problems than the general UK population.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that experiencing body image concerns is relatively common.

The Foundation’s Body Image Report (2019) found that, in the past year:

  • Over a third of adults reported feeling ‘down or low’ (34%) about their body image.
  • Around a fifth felt ‘ashamed’ (20%) or ‘disgusted’ (19%).
  • More than a third (35%) of young people aged 13-19 ‘often’ or ‘always’ worry about their body image.

Research also suggests that women and girls are more likely to report being unsatisfied with their bodies.

  • One in ten women reported being dissatisfied with their appearance, compared to one in 20 men [1]
  • More than four in ten girls (46%) say their body image caused them to worry, compared to less than three in ten boys (25%) [2]

However, more work can be done to understand how men and boys are affected by body image concerns. Some studies find that one in ten secondary schools boys:

  • Had skipped a meal to change how they look [2].
  • Would consider taking steroids to achieve their appearance goals [3].

In a report by the UK’s advertising think-tank, Credos, findings indicated that young people are increasingly acknowledging that body image issues are a struggle for both genders.

  • Around half of secondary school boys recognised that eating disorders, dieting, and extreme exercising were issues for both genders [3].

However, the report also highlights gaps in understanding for parents and teachers around how body image impacts boys [3]. It is useful to make note of this as you will have the opportunity to explore the implications of these findings later in the course.


[1] Government Equalities Office. Body confidence: Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey October 2014. [Internet]. London; 2014.

[2] Mental Health Foundation. Body image report. 2019.

[3] Credos. Picture of Health? [Internet]. 2016.

In the comments section, consider these questions.

What do these statistics indicate about how we understand body image as a society?

What implications might this have for children and young people’s mental health and quality of life?

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Body Image and Mental Health in Young People

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