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Body shape among concerns youngsters have about appearance when at school – UK poll

By Alison Kershaw, PA Education Correspondent

Almost two thirds of young people worry about their appearance whilst at school, concerned about everything from their skin to their weight, body shape and even hair and clothes, a poll has found.

It suggests that in general, these anxieties increase as children grow up, with older teenagers more likely to be worried about their appearance than those just starting secondary school.

The findings, commissioned by the YMCA's Be Real Campaign, come as children across England return to school after the summer holidays.

Overall, 64% of the UK 11 to 16-year-olds polled worry about at least one element of their appearance while at school, the survey says.

Young people were most likely to worry about being considered to have spots, freckles or bad skin (21%), followed by being considered overweight (20%).

Almost one in five (19%) worried about their body shape, and the same proportion were concerned about their hairstyle.

A further 6% were worried about their hair colour.

Some 17% were worried about not being considered to be wearing the latest clothing trends.

A breakdown shows how concerns about appearance become increasingly common as children move through school.

For example, while 17% of 11 and 12-year-olds were worried about their skin, this rose to 22% among 13 to 14-year-olds and 35% among 15 to 16-year-olds.

The proportions concerned about weight, clothes, height and muscles also increased through the age groups, although 11 to 12-year-olds were more concerned about their hair than those slightly older than them (aged 13-14).

Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England & Wales, said: "Young people are constantly bombarded with images of unrealistic body types in the media, advertising and online, which can have devastating effects on their confidence and overall wellbeing.

"We know that some young people are so worried about their looks that it stops them from raising their hand in class or taking part in school activities, including PE."

Schools are "uniquely placed" to support young people to have positive discussions around body image with their classmates, she said.

She added: "In this digital age, it's now more important than ever that we talk openly about body image anxieties, so that young people can feel comfortable in their skin and have one less thing to worry about when they are going through puberty, which is already one of the most difficult stages of their life."

- The YouthSights poll questioned 855 UK 11 to 16-year-olds in August.