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Central YMCA Healthy Body Poll

A public opinion poll on behalf of Central YMCA.

Date Published: 30 Oct 2009

Categories: Education | Health | Media | Public and communities | UK


National survey reveals public anxiety over body image

An unprecedented survey of people’s attitudes towards body image has revealed that 90% of adults in the UK believe we care too much about the way we look, and not enough about how healthy we are.

Almost a quarter of the adult population feel depressed at some point about their body shape, and 90% believe advertisers should be using differing body sizes in their campaigns.

Research commissioned by Central YMCA, the UK’s leading activity for health charity, has also revealed that:
- 88% of people believe children to be under more pressure about their physical appearance than they were 20 years ago

- 81% of people think that pupils in secondary school should be given an opportunity to discuss body image issues in schools

- More than 50% of adults think body image issues should be addressed at a younger age (i.e. in primary school)

- 77% of people believe that airbrushed photographs should carry a warning

The Healthy Attitudes to Healthy Bodies survey launches Central YMCA’s campaign to raise awareness about the extent of society’s obsession with body image ideals, and its associated negative impact upon the wellbeing of children, young people and adults.

 “This survey illustrates a deep public unease about the growing focus on body image ideals, and we are particularly concerned about the relationship this has with the self esteem and confidence of many in society, particularly children and young people”

“The YMCA’s work with children and young people would suggest that there is an appetite for and an urgent need to provide a safe space and supportive environment for children and young people to debate these issues”.

….. says Rosi Prescott, Central YMCA’s CEO.

Central YMCA is calling for a debate about the use of airbrushing, including the proposed use of labeling for airbrushed images.  In addition they are campaigning for resources to be made available to help children and young people discuss body image, including having schools lessons on body confidence and positive body image within the school curricula. 

Several YMCAs already work with young people to address body image concerns:

Central YMCA’s Y Touring Theatre Company ran a series of workshops in Primary and Secondary Schools across London and found that both teachers and young people felt the workshops provided a safe space for young people to explore issues surrounding body image. 

Nigel Townsend, Executive Director of the Theatre Company said: “The workshops that we carried out in schools used a mix of electronic voting and mobile phone videos to capture what young people/children’s awareness and concerns were. The results mirrored the concerns of the adults, and demonstrated how early the impact of the visual media is beginning to effect children’s awareness of body image and impact on their sense of wellbeing and self confidence”
Some comments from young people who took part included:
“Real talk, media frenzied young girls with size 0 catwalk models have the worst idea of beauty. Juicy curves beat skinny bones any day as 9/10 guys will tell u.”
Bridgwater YMCA runs regular group sessions with young people to debate and discuss body image issues.  One of the participants, Tash Allen, aged 18 said:

‘When I was at school we didn’t look at body image at all. I think it would have been good to do it at school but to have some one, not a teacher, to come in and talk about it. You would open up more to some one you don’t know.  When I moved to the YMCA I always thought about what I looked like and first impressions of other residents wasn’t good, until they got to know me.  I still always think about what I look like but in a more positive way”.

“The debate about body image ideals is gathering momentum and it won’t go away” says Ms Prescott. 

“Germany’s top woman’s magazine Brigitte has announced that it will no longer use professional models and will instead use everyday women as models. In France, proposals have been mooted in Parliament to label airbrushed images.  And in the UK, the Liberal Democrats are calling for an outright ban on airbrushing targeting under 16 year olds.”

Central YMCA’s “Healthy Attitudes to Healthy Bodies”, conducted by ComRes, polled the views of 1002 British adults between16-18th October.  Data were weighted to be representative demographically of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables are available at

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