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How comfortable are adults with their bodies in later life?

How comfortable are adults with their bodies in later life? The Mental Health Foundation discusses recent research.

While often associated with younger people, body image concern, as well as body appreciation, is not exclusive to youth, or even to mid-adulthood.

Despite our appearance and relationships with our bodies changing as we age, we do not automatically stop placing value on these aspects of ourselves.

Certainly, in later life, it can be expected that there will be some changes in the way our bodies physically look and how they function in comparison to childhood, adolescence, or younger adulthood.

For some, these changes do not coincide with an updated perception of what our bodies can do, and this can lead to body image concerns developing in later life.

Although estimates around the extent of body dissatisfaction among people in later life vary widely in the literature [1], there is evidence that people in later life hold misconceptions about their body size and shape, and feel dissatisfied with their bodies [1,2].

The Foundation’s Body Image Report (2019) interviewed adults aged 55+ and found that, in the last year:

  • Under a quarter of respondents (24%) felt ‘satisfied’ with their body image.
  • Around one in five reported feeling anxious (20%) or depressed (23%) specifically because of their body image.

These results indicate that body image concerns are prevalent and continue to affect mental health in later life for some individuals.

Importantly, however, the prevalence of body image concerns does not necessarily increase with age.

Many studies show that people in later life report similar levels of body dissatisfaction as those in adolescence and adulthood, or even lower levels in some instances.

  • Almost seven in ten (69%) adults aged 65+ reported ‘satisfaction’ with their appearance, compared to around the same number (67%) of 18–34 year-olds [3].

References

[1] Roy M, Payette H. The body image construct among Western seniors: A systematic review of the literature. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2012;55(1):505–21.

[2] Peat CM, Peyerl NL, Muehlenkamp JJ. Body image and eating disorders in Older adults: A review. J Gen Psychol. 2008 Oct;135(4):343–58.

[3] Government Equalities Office. Body confidence: Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey October 2014. [Internet]. London; 2014. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/body-confidence-a-rapid-evidence-assessment-of-the-lite

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Body Image and Mental Health in Young People

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