Millions of Teens Identify Social Media As Key Cause of Worries About Body Image, New Research Reveals

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on May 15, 2019

Millions of Teens Identify Social Media As Key Cause of Worries About Body Image, New Research Reveals

A new survey released by the Mental Health Foundation has revealed 40% of teens worry about their body image after viewing images on social media

Leading mental health charity Mental Health Foundation has today released the findings of a recent online survey of British teens. Commissioned as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, teens aged 13 to 19 were asked a number of questions relating to this year’s theme, body image.

Results revealed nearly a third (31%) of teens feel ashamed about their body image. Two in five (40%) said images on social media have caused them to worry about their body image, with 40% expressing that their friends have said something to cause them to worry about their body image.

Worryingly, more than a third (35%) said they have stopped eating or restricted their diets as a result of their worry about their body image. 35% worry about their body image often or daily, with a distressing 37% feeling upset or ashamed about how they look.

Programme Lead for Families, Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation, Jane Caro, commented:

“Our survey has shown that millions of young people in Britain are worrying about their body image. Worries about body image can lead to mental health problems and in some instances are linked to self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings.

“It is also clear from the survey that teenagers are identifying images on social media as a key factor that makes them worry about their body image. Conversations with their friends also have a major role in causing young people to worry.”

Earlier this week, the Mental Health Foundation released a report that revealed one in eight UK adults have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings due to concerns about their body image. A further third have felt “disgusted” or ashamed because of their body image over the past year.

The report on Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies highlights the wide range of commercial and advertorial pressures surrounding body image that may be contributing to mental health problems for millions of young people. In addition to 40% of teens aged 13 to 19 worrying about their body image due to social media, almost half of 18 to 25s said images on social media have caused them to worry about their own body image.

Studies have been widely contradictory in their findings around social media and poor mental health in recent years, with a number claiming social media isn’t linked to poor mental health. A growing number of professional bodies and organisations have called for tougher regulations around social media advertising out of fear of how it may be affecting young people and their mental health.

In February this year, the NHS called for a social media ban on “dubious” health products endorsed by social media stars, calling the endorsements “irresponsible and unsafe”. It doesn't take much digging on the popular app to find influencer promotions for detox teas, diet pills, appetite suppressing lollies, and similar products.

In March, MPs called for tougher regulations and recognition of social media addiction, particularly amongst those aged 24 and under. The NewFilters to manage the impact of social media on young people’s mental health and well-being report released by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) highlighted key findings around how damaging social media can be for young people. Results showed a negative impact on young people’s self-esteem and body image in relation to social media.

In light of their recent findings, The Mental Health Foundation has called for immediate action to be taken to help safeguard young people across social media and as they grow up. Jane explains:

“Action starts in our families and homes with how we talk about our bodies and about eating, but we also need more regulation of advertising promoting idealised and unattainable body images. Social media companies should urgently up their game in taking practical steps to ensure that the content they promote does not exacerbate body image concerns.”

The charity is currently lobbying for peer-led mental health programmes to be introduced in schools. The Make It Count campaign aims to ensure positive mental health is at the centre of every young person’s education.

Discover more about how you can help teens cope with body image issues, find out how therapy can help you to change your body image or learn how you can maintain positive body image in the era of social media.

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