'Body image obsession' leading to low life satisfaction for young people

Young people worrying over body image is just one of the factors contributing to their low life s...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

07.18 3 Sep 2020

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'Body image obsession' leading...

'Body image obsession' leading to low life satisfaction for young people

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

07.18 3 Sep 2020

Share this article

Young people worrying over body image is just one of the factors contributing to their low life satisfaction.

That is according to a new UNICEF report, which says teenagers in Ireland are among the least satisfied with their lives in the European Union.

A new report ranks Ireland in the top third for child well-being, but shows young people struggling with mental health.


Ireland scores best on academic and social skills (6th), but fares worse on physical health (17th) and mental well-being (26th).

More than six in 100,000 Irish adolescents aged 15-19 die by suicide.

On life satisfaction, children in Ireland rated themselves as having one of the lowest rates in the OECD/EU (72%), with 28% marking a score of five or under on a scale of 10.

Among the issues contributing to these low scores are body image, pressure to succeed in school, bullying and their sense of meaning or purpose in life.

Irish children were well below the OECD average in their sense of meaning or purpose in life.

Meanwhile, children who worry about the environment tend to have lower life satisfaction.

Over one-quarter (27%) of Irish 11 to 15-year-olds said they were too fat and 14% said they were too thin.

Girls in Ireland are amongst the most likely in the region to link life satisfaction with body image, along with those in Scotland, Finland and the Netherlands.

But UNICEF Ireland executive director Peter Power told Breakfast Briefing Ireland is doing well in some areas.

"Overall when you take a combination of the various different factors in relation to child well-being we score in this league table 12th overall.

"So we're in the upper third, which points to an improving situation for children generally.

"Some aspects of it are very good: we're right up near the top, other aspects which we can discuss we're right down at the lower third".

"The physical ranking in the report card is at 17th - that's obviously middle of the table - could be better, should be better."

"But what UNICEF would like to really bring to the attention of Government and policy-makers today is that it's our scoring in relation to young people's mental health is what's really dragging down Ireland in relation to the well-being and the relative scoring of children across the OECD and the European Union.

"So things such as body weight, body shaming, bullying, body image, the sense of children's meaning and purpose in life - things like that - are pretty low down for young Irish people relative to their peers right across the EU and OECD.

"That said, when you look at education and social skills, we're right up there at 6th right across the country.

"It is a mix, there's certain things we're doing well [but] certain things - especially mental health - that we need to address".

"The report points to a number of contributing factors to these scores, particularly young people's worrying perception about their body image - especially young girls.

"This is something which we would ask Governments and policy-makers to really carefully look at to see where we stand relative to other countries and why that is and what we can do about it.

"One of the reasons it comes as no surprise is the almost obsession with the perfect body image that you see across social media now.

"And as we all know young people are really influenced by various types of social media, and this includes young boys as well, this sort of pressure to have the perfect body.

"That puts enormous pressure on children, can cause them to question their self-worth, that's just one of the things.

"Pressure to succeed in school, bullying including cyber-bullying, their sense and their meaning and purpose in life.

"So there's ranking in all of these sub-categories - but all taken together, it points to the life satisfaction of young Irish people.

"Despite many of the advantages they have in education and physical well-being, their life satisfaction is lower than others and much lower than what it should be and what Ireland should aspire to have in this country".

Suicide, unhappiness, obesity and poor social and academic skills have become far-too-common features of childhood in high-income countries, according to the report card.

The series uses comparable national data to rank EU and OECD countries on childhood.

Based on indicators such as children's mental and physical health, academic and social skillset the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway rank as the top three places to be a child among wealthy countries.

Ireland ranks 12th out of the 38 OECD/EU countries for child well-being.

Main image by Foundry Co from Pixabay 

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