Using body mass index (BMI) to determine whether a person’s weight is healthy should be phased out due to concerns contributing to eating disorders, according to a report by MPs.
The Women’s and Equal Opportunities Committee warned that the effects of the pandemic had been “devastating” on both those affected by eating disorders and those at high risk of developing it.
Her body image research also called the government’s obesity strategy “dangerous” for those with negative body image, which may cause eating disorders in the people it is supposed to help.
The report warns that BMI, used as an indicator of health risk in individual patients who are then given weight loss or weight gain programs based on their scores, contributes to problems such as eating disorders and poor mental health.
“We were very saddened by the number of people who were exposed to appearance and weight discrimination while accessing NHS services,” the report said.
“The use of BMI creates weight stigma, contributes to eating disorders, and disrupts people’s body image and mental health.”
It has been recommended that Public Health England stop using BMI as a measure of individual health and instead focus on a “Health at Every Size” approach.
This takes into account differences in factors such as age, ethnicity, and gender, and prioritizes healthy lifestyle choices over weight correction, according to the report.
Regarding the obesity strategy, the committee stated that it was “at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating unhealthy behavior” and called on the government to commission an independent review of the evidence base for its policy.
She also urged the government to immediately abolish plans for calorie labels on food in restaurants, cafes and takeaways, fearing it will lead to an increase in eating disorders and eating disorders.
MPs also called on the government to propose laws restricting or prohibiting the use of altered images in advertisements, amid concerns that it contributes to poor body image.
Chair Caroline Nokes said: “There has been a plethora of research and advice on how to combat negative body image over the past 10 years, but government action in this area is limited – we urgently need to take action.
“The pressure will increase when gyms and beauty salons reopen on Monday,” added the Conservative MP.
“This may be exciting to some, but it will be difficult for people with body image fear. It is critical that government action helps improve body image.”
Tom Quinn, director of foreign affairs at Eating Disorders Charity Beat, said, “The past year has been particularly difficult for those with eating disorders. Beat’s helpline alone has 100,000 support sessions and demand is up 302% believe that further measures are urgently needed to protect those at risk.
“We welcome the committee’s call for an urgent review of eating disorder rates and for adequate support for those affected.
“BMI should never be used as the sole factor in diagnosing eating disorders or in determining who is ‘unwell enough’ to have access to treatment.
“This can create potentially dangerous delays and drive people deeper into eating disorders to be taken seriously.
“The government’s obesity strategy needs to be reviewed immediately as it includes actions that are known to be dangerous to the malaise or susceptible, such as listing calories on menus.
“We believe that none of the risky measures should be implemented until this review has taken place.
“We strongly support the call for increased funding for research into eating disorders, which remains one of the least understood mental illnesses.” (processed)