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Australia is going backwards on national youth body image

Young Australians have again identified body image as one of their top three personal concerns – for the sixth year in a row in Mission Australia’s 2015 National Youth Survey.

This increasing trend from 20.4% in 2012 to 26.5% in 2015 highlighted year on year by Mission Australia’s annual survey provides the strongest recognition of body image needing to be a national mental health concern. There is a compelling rationale for the need to address negative body image thinking in all ages of a child’s life, particularly before negative body image thinking takes root.

Butterfly Foundation CEO, Christine Morgan, said young people with negative body image too frequently engage in body idolisation and nutrition deprivation, which can trigger further serious illnesses, including eating disorders.

“This is the sixth year in a row the Mission Australia National Youth Survey has identified strong evidence of this serious public issue for young Australians. We must address negative body image as a serious population and mental health issue. It is an issue that can only be fixed when the mental and physical health, youth and social services portfolios work together from a national leadership position.” said Butterfly Foundation CEO, Christine Morgan.

This year’s survey has found that at least 1 in 4 young people have serious body image concerns, while other mental health issues such as stress and anxiety have also rated highly. A young person with a mental illness was 55.4% more likely to be concerned about body image than someone without. The impact of negative body image on a young person’s well-being can no longer be overlooked.

Negative body image can be a pre-cursor to eating disorders, with 15-19 year olds amongst those at the highest risk of onset for an eating disorder. Promoting positive body image is a vital prevention initiative against eating disorders. There are evidence based programs that have been shown to be effective in improving body image for school students.  These programs must become a priority.*

Butterfly Foundation congratulates Mission Australia for delivering the 2015 Youth Survey, providing a window into the core concerns of young Australians.  It is essential we act on the findings particularly in relation to negative body image.

* Yager, Zali, et al. “What works in secondary schools? A systematic review of classroom-based body image programs.” Body Image 10.3 (2013): 271-281.


Tips for young people to reduce negative body image:

• Say positive things to yourself every day. Focusing on your positive qualities, skills and talents can help you accept and appreciate your whole self

• Avoid negative or berating self-talk

• Set positive, health focused goals rather than weight loss related ones


Tips for parents to promote positive body image: • Don’t talk about diets. Dieting is the biggest risk factor for an eating disorder. Try to avoid talking about diets, your “naughty” eating habits, or your weight and size.

• Talk to your child about the way they feel about the way they look. Encourage your child to talk with you about their feelings.

• Love and accept your own body. This may not be easy but being aware of your attitude towards your own body will help you be conscious of the messages you send to your kids.


To view the full Mission Australia 2015 Youth Survey, please visit:


Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contactButterfly’s National Support Line on 1800 33 4673 or

Media enquiries: Taryn Harris 02 8456 3931 or

Worried about a friend or someone you care about?

It can be extremely difficult raising the subject of eating disorders with a friend or loved one. To be supportive one needs to learn what to say and what not to say.  


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Communicating your concern with your child about eating and dieting behaviour can be extremely difficult. Butterfly offers a range of services that can provide you with skills and information related to communicating with your child.  


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Teachers & Professionals Working with Young People

Teachers and those working with young people are often the first to become aware of dis-ordered eating behaviours.  Butterfly Education provides early intervention and prevention skills for professionals working with young people. 

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