Body Image Lessons Will Curb the Rise of Eating Disorders in Children, AM Suggests; Self-Esteem Needs Boosting against Media Images of 'Perfect' Bodies

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 14, 2009 | Go to article overview

Body Image Lessons Will Curb the Rise of Eating Disorders in Children, AM Suggests; Self-Esteem Needs Boosting against Media Images of 'Perfect' Bodies


Byline: Madeleine Brindley

CHILDREN should be taught about body image and self-esteem in school to help prevent eating disorders, an AM has said.

Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins has called on Education Minister Jane Hutt to include the subject in the national curriculum.

Her campaign comes amid concerns that 11 and 12-year-olds - especially girls - are already comparing themselves to pictures of emaciated models widely used by the media.

It coincides with a similar call from stylist and television presenter Gok Wan for schools to take a lead on tackling teenagers' concerns about their appearance.

Ms Jenkins, who chairs the National Assembly's cross-party group on eating disorders, said: "I believe that it is important that young people learn about their bodies from an early age, so that they do not go on to develop eating disorders.

"I sincerely believe that introducing such lessons in our schools will curb the rise of eating disorders among our young people, who feel a tremendous pressure to look a certain way, or to live up to images they see in magazines."

Research by an eating disorders charity called beat and Girlguiding UK found that Brownies associated images of very slim and pretty people with being happy and popular.

And other UK studies have found that as many as six out of 10 teenage girls believe they would be happier if they were thinner and that one in four boys would consider having plastic surgery to look like celebrities such as David Beckham and Brad Pitt.

Ms Jenkins, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West, believes sessions on body image and self-esteem should be added to the personal and social edu-catio(PSE) curriculum in all junior or secondary schools.

And the National Assembly cross-party group on eating disorders also wants the Welsh Assembly Govern-mento fund a programme to create a range of educational materials on body image for five to 18-year-olds to use.

Ms Jenkins said: "When you ask boys what makes them happy they may say playing sport but girls will tell you it's about how good they look in the playground.

"This is more than just about how you look - it's about building confidence and self-esteem. It is much like sexual health and sex education - the earlier we start, the better.

"Young people would no longer be under peer pressure to look a certain way and will be informed about how images are por-trayeand why they are portrayed in a certain way."

Mary George, a spokeswoman for beat, said: "We hear daily of children at a worryingly young age developing issues around their body image and the lack of self-esteem it can cause.

"We welcome it being brought to the attention of the Assembly Government and believe this is something that should happen in the education system. …

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