Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The extent, causes and impact of negative body image

1.People face appearance-based discrimination on a daily basis, at work, in schools and in public spaces. Whilst we were disappointed not to hear from the Government Equalities Office on their assessment of appearance-based discrimination, we are pleased that the Government is undertaking research on the relationship between negative body image and certain protected characteristics. Over the past 10 years, both Government and academics have produced a wealth of research and made numerous policy recommendations on how to tackle negative body image for people across the UK. Despite this, Government action in this area continues to be limited. The EHRC should produce guidance for individuals seeking to use the existing Equality Act legislation to challenge appearance-based discrimination within three months. The Government should widely promote the EHRC’s new guidance and publish the proposals resulting from its own research and update us on these within 6 months. (Paragraph 20)

How can we stop negative body image affecting our mental and physical health?

2.Lockdown has undoubtedly worsened existing body image anxieties and inspired new insecurities for thousands of people across the country. In particular, we are alarmed by the rapidly rising rates in eating disorders and other mental health conditions. The impact of the pandemic, both on eating disorder sufferers and those at a high risk of developing an eating disorder, has been devastating. We recommend that the Government reviews why eating disorder rates in the UK are rising. Any research undertaken must be inclusive of all groups in which eating disorder rates are rising including men, women, children, older people and BAME groups. We request that the Government respond to us with its findings and policy interventions to tackle these devastating rises within six months. (Paragraph 45)

3.Many organisations and academics have found that prevention and early intervention are likely to reduce eating disorder rates as well as hospitalisations and deaths. It is important that the alarming rise in eating disorder rates is addressed as the country reopens post-pandemic. We recommend that in the short term, the Government focuses on rapidly developing early intervention strategies for those with mental health issues related to body image, including eating disorders. Given the high mortality rates associated with eating disorders, and that eating disorder research receives just 96p per person affected annually, ringfenced funding for eating disorder research should be increased to at least £9 per person, the same amount that is spent per person on general mental health research. Funding for eating disorders must be in line with the prevalence and severity of the condition. (Paragraph 46)

4.We are hugely saddened to hear of the number of people who have faced appearance and weight-based discrimination when accessing NHS services. There is no way to quantify the damage this has done to individuals’ mental and physical health. We are not satisfied with the use of BMI as a measurement to evaluate individual health. It is clear that the use of BMI inspires weight stigma, contributes to eating disorders, and can damage an individual’s body image and mental health. We recommend that the Government urgently commissions research into the extent and impact of weight-based discrimination for people accessing NHS services. PHE should stop using BMI as a measure of individual health and adopt a ‘Health at Every Size’ approach within twelve months. (Paragraph 47)

5.The current Obesity Strategy is at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating unhealthy behaviours. It is likely to be dangerous for those with negative body image, including those at risk of developing eating disorders. In the short term, we have specific concerns that calorie labelling will contribute to growth in eating disorders and disordered eating. The Government should immediately scrap its plans to for calorie labels on food in restaurants, cafes, and takeaways. (Paragraph 48)

6.We are disappointed to learn that there have been no reviews of the effectiveness of the current or previous obesity strategies, and we cannot support much-criticised and unevaluated weight-loss policies. The Government must only use evidence-based policies in its Obesity Strategy. The Government should urgently commission an independent review of its Obesity Strategy to determine the evidence base for its policies within 3 months. It should publicly report the findings of this review within six months. We are disappointed to learn that there have been no reviews of the effectiveness of the current or previous obesity strategies, and we cannot support much-criticised and unevaluated weight-loss policies. The Government must only use evidence-based policies in its Obesity Strategy. (Paragraph 49)

A positive body image for future generations

7.Encouraging positive body image during childhood and adolescence must be a priority. We commend the Government for introducing body image into the RSHE curriculum last year and hope this creates an opportunity for schools to address the concerns young people have about their body image. We recommend that the Department for Education regularly reviews the new RSHE curriculum to ensure that it is having a positive impact on wellbeing and decreases levels of body dissatisfaction. Additionally, the Department for Education should explore other policy initiatives to encourage schools to take a ‘whole school approach’ to encouraging positive body image. (Paragraph 58)

8.Weighing children in primary schools under the National Child Measurement Programme is likely to cause harm to children’s mental health and could hinder the development of a positive body image. This is particularly damaging for Black children who are more likely to be incorrectly placed in the overweight or obese categories. We recommend that the Government urgently reviews the National Child Measurement Programme to ensure it is not creating undue body image pressures in children. The Government should urgently assess the need for the programme and seek other ways to collect this data. (Paragraph 59)

#NoFilter: is this advert real?

9.The Committee is disappointed about the lack of diversity in adverts both on and offline. We urgently want to see more companies advertising with real images of people from a diverse range of ethnicities, abilities, sexualities, genders, body shapes and sizes. We know that advertising is a powerful driver of consumer behaviour and protecting people from adverts, which can be pervasive online, needs to be a priority if the Government wishes to reduce negative body image. We recommend that the Government works with companies and the ASA to further encourage the use of diverse and representative images of people in advertising. (Paragraph 88)

10.We commend the Government for launching a consultation on online advertising in the Spring and are encouraged that the ASA will be consulting on body image as well as racial stereotyping in 2021. We recommend that the Government works closely with the ASA to ensure its future work on body image is inclusive and that substantial changes are implemented after its consultation. (Paragraph 89)

11.Whilst the Committee was pleased to see that TfL has taken steps to protect Londoners from advertisements that could promote body dissatisfaction and bolster diverse advertising on their network, we were disappointed it had not been fully evaluated to properly assess the impact of their policy, both on their consumers and their advertising revenues. We recommend that the Government works with the advertising industry and TfL to consider what impact banning adverts has on protecting people from developing negative body image. It should update us within 6 months. (Paragraph 90)

12.We were pleased to hear from companies who are committed to advertising their products by using real, honest images. However, a significant number of advertisers continue to rely heavily on image editing. It is clear that the constant bombardment of editing images both on and offline is detrimental to mental health and contributes to the development of poor body image. The Government should bring forward legislation to restrict or ban the use of altered images in commercial advertising and promotion. (Paragraph 91)

Body image harms online

13.The Committee was pleased to see some progress on the Government’s Online Harms legislation during our inquiry. We are of the view that any online content and activity that contributes to the proliferation of negative body image is a ‘harm’ The Online Harms Bill should be a legislative priority and the Government should inform us of its proposed timetable within two months. We recommend that harms related to body image and appearance-related bullying are included within the scope of the Online Harms legislation due to the foreseeable risk of a significant adverse physical or psychological impact on individuals who are at risk of developing negative body image. (Paragraph 113)

14.Despite the number of controls in place on social media platforms, users continuously experience content that, by the platforms’ own admission, shouldn’t be accessible. We recommend that the Government should ensure that social media companies enforce their advertising rules and community guidelines and introduce strong sanctions for failing to do so, including but not limited to, significant fines. (Paragraph 114)

15.We were pleased to hear that the Government recognises the impact social media can have on body image and that it is encouraging social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms. We are also pleased that social media companies are committed to working with the Government to do more research into the relationship between social media use and body image. We recommend that the Government works closely with social media companies and academics to ensure that research on social media use and body image are up-to-date, evidence-based, and sufficiently funded. (Paragraph 115)

16.We welcome Ofcom’s role in regulating online harms and Parliament’s role in identifying harms. We recommend that the Government work closely with the UKRI and Ofcom to ensure that online harms legislation sufficiently encompasses protections from harms caused by body image pressures. We also ask that the Government engages with social media companies on developing innovative solutions to protect users from body image harms encountered online, and that Ofcom works with groups at high risk of developing poor body image to ensure the new regulatory system works for them. We ask that the Government takes this recommendation into account in advance of the Online Harms Bill passing into law. (Paragraph 116)

17.Young people are particularly at risk of developing poor body image, and access to social media and other online content is linked with negative feelings about appearance. We recommend that the Government ensures that any age verification or assurance processes used by online companies are effective and protect young people from harmful content. We ask the Government to respond to us within 12 months on how effectively age controls have restricted access to harmful content for young people. (Paragraph 117)

Published: 9 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement