Schools urged to give body confidence lessons

Schools are being urged to hold lessons in body confidence as a new survey reveals that one in four Britons is depressed by their appearance.

A new project called Be Real aims to tackle the issue which campaigners say is trapping millions of people in the UK in an unhealthy cycle of depression, short-term dieting, cosmetic intervention and eating disorders.

"Low body confidence is a critical public health issue that we cannot ignore,” said Caroline Nokes MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image.

"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."

Ms Nokes visited Therfield School in Leatherhead, Surrey, and spoke to Year 8 pupils as part of her work to raise awareness of the issue.

"Through this campaign, we're driving change through three priority areas," she said.

"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."

She said Be Real also wanted to "encourage the media, business and advertisers to recognise diversity and positively reflect what we really look like".

A survey of 2,000 adults across the UK found 26% were "depressed" by how they look, while 28% said they refused to exercise because of body anxiety and 20% skipped meals to lose weight.

More than one in seven people have considered cosmetic interventions and almost a fifth of 18 to 24-year-olds are currently taking muscle building supplements to improve their physique.

"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," said Denise Hatton, chief executive of youth charity YMCA England.

"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."

YMCA youth ambassador Kelsey Hibberd, who helps young people in Southend, Essex, was bullied in her teens and says she would be "thrilled" if body confidence lessons were offered in schools.

"It would mean that young people are learning really valuable life lessons and are not just being judged on grades," she told Sky News Online.

"Your body is just a shell, it’s not a measure of you, your intelligence, your morals or your values. I’d be thrilled if these lessons went nationwide into every school in Britain."

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