A new longitudinal study led by UCL researchers has found that body dissatisfaction at age 11 is linked to increased risk of depression by age 14. The study, which involved over 2000 British adolescents, is the first of its kind to examine the influence of body dissatisfaction on the occurrence of later depressive episodes in a cohort born in the early 1990s.
Body dissatisfaction refers to negative subjective evaluations of one’s physical body. It is prevalent in adolescent populations, with up to 61% of adolescents experiencing some degree of dissatisfaction with their body. Moreover, it has shown growing trends worldwide, especially among girls and in urban contexts.
Body dissatisfaction is influenced by sociocultural factors, such as the media, parents, and peers, that transmit dominant appearance ideals (e.g., the ‘thin’ youthful ideal for females and ‘muscular’ ideal for males). Adolescents who internalise these ideals and compare their own appearance with that of others may develop negative body image and low self-esteem.
Body Dissatisfaction and Depression: A Vicious Cycle
Body dissatisfaction is not only distressing, but also a risk factor for adverse consequences, such as depressive symptoms, unhealthy body change behaviours, and eating disorders. Depression, in turn, can worsen body dissatisfaction and lead to a vicious cycle of negative emotions and behaviours.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort, which followed children born in 1991-1992 from birth to adulthood. The researchers assessed body dissatisfaction and depression at 14 and 18 years of age, controlling for baseline depression.
The results showed that among females, body dissatisfaction at 14 years old predicted mild, moderate, and severe depressive episodes at 18 years old. Among males, body dissatisfaction at 14 years old predicted mild and severe depressive episodes at 18 years old. The findings highlight that body dissatisfaction is a public health concern that can have long-term implications for mental health.
Implications and Recommendations
The study has several implications and recommendations for policy makers, health professionals, educators, parents, and adolescents. First, it suggests that early identification and intervention for body dissatisfaction is needed, especially for girls, who showed higher rates of body dissatisfaction and depression than boys. Second, it indicates that promoting healthy diet and exercise is important, but it may not be enough to prevent body dissatisfaction and depression. Third, it implies that challenging the unrealistic and harmful appearance ideals that are prevalent in the society is crucial. Fourth, it advises that providing support and guidance to adolescents who struggle with body image and self-esteem issues is essential.
The study also acknowledges some limitations, such as the use of self-report measures, the lack of data on other factors that may influence body dissatisfaction and depression, and the generalisability of the findings to other populations and contexts. The researchers suggest that future studies should explore the mechanisms and moderators of the relationship between body dissatisfaction and depression, and test the effectiveness of interventions that target both aspects of mental health.
Category: Health Meta Description: A new study finds that body dissatisfaction at age 11 is linked to increased risk of depression by age 14, highlighting the need for early intervention. Slug: