CNC research examines relationship between body image and mental health

Teenage girl looks at the horizon

Evidence from CNC shows that 11-year-olds who feel unhappy about their bodies are more likely go on to experience depression at age 14.

Researchers at UCL said the findings reinforced how important it is to reduce stigma of different body types.

What we asked you

Since you were 11, we’ve asked you a series of questions about how you’ve been feeling, including how often you’ve felt:

  • so depressed that nothing could cheer you up
  • hopeless
  • restless or fidgety
  • that everything was an effort
  • worthless.

You’ve also told us how you’ve felt about the way you looked.

We’ve measured your height and weight throughout your life to see how you’re growing, and that information can be used to calculate your body mass index (BMI).

Link between negative body image and poor mental health

Children in your generation who had a high BMI at age seven were more likely to say they felt dissatisfied with their bodies when they reached age 11. And it was these people who went on to have more feelings of depression by age 14, compared to their peers who felt more positive about the way they looked.

These links – between high BMI and negative body image, and negative body image and feelings of depression – were twice as strong for girls than boys.

Promoting good physical and mental health

The researchers explained that while it’s important to promote healthy eating and exercise so young people stay in good physical health, it’s equally important to reduce stigma of bigger bodies to protect young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Read the full research report

‘Longitudinal pathways between childhood BMI, body dissatisfaction, and adolescent depression: an observational study using the UK Millennium Cohort Study*’ was published in The Lancet Psychiatry in December 2023.

*Child of the New Century is known as the Millennium Cohort Study by researchers.


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