Last month the Students’ Health Service had a visit from our local MP Stephen Williams, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image. He was interested to hear about our work with students with eating disorders, but we also talked through the challenges of being a student with a condition such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and the misuse of body building drugs such as anabolic steroids in some parts of our population.
Negative body image underlies much of the mental health work we do, whether it leads to low self esteem (which can itself lead to depression or self harm), anxiety, social phobia, and more obviously anorexia and bulimia.
The report highlights more positive ways to view ourselves and our bodies, such as the Health At Every Size movement, which focuses on health rather than weight/ Body Mass Index. This movement tries to encourage us to eat healthily and engage in appropriate amounts of physical activity and has been shown to lead to higher levels of self esteem, and better blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Anecdotally the medical community is certainly becoming increasingly wary of using BMI as a ‘one size fits all’ measure, as we watch the generations increase in height and muscle mass. Even traditional children’s measurement charts have had doubt thrown over them, with a current study from the University of Worcester identifying healthy children as being incorrectly labelled ‘obese or overweight’ by the National Child Measurement Programme. This could then lead to those children developing neuroses about their height and weight in the future, in our ‘weight obsessed society’.
Fixating on a particular weight may not be the best approach for us, and it might be better to take a more holistic approach with better health being the best outcome measure to aim for; focus on Fitness rather than Fatness, if you like.
If you are worried about your weight/ shape or health, then please do come and see us to talk it through. We are very used to discussing these issues, and I hope you will find us good at listening and keen to help.