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January 9, 2015

Medibank Health Check #4 – ‘Community perceptions on the role of body image vs health.’

48% of 18-24 year old Australians say they worry more about body shape than overall health.

Most Australians rate a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing ahead of physical features such as being slim, attractive and young, according to a new survey released today by Medibank.

But teens and young adults are more about body image than health, according to the Medibank Health Check #4 – ‘Community perceptions on the role of body image vs health.’

The fourth quarterly survey of 1,500 people revealed that the younger you are, the more important physical features like looking attractive, being slim and looking young are, compared to healthy living features such as being active and eating well.

48 per cent of 18-24 year olds say they worry more about body shape than overall health.  The response to this statement trends down with age, with only 7 per cent of people 65 plus worrying more about how they look more than overall health.

Identifying a link between health and attractiveness, in general healthy lifestyle attributes like feeling good, healthy eating and living an active lifestyle, were seen as more important than physical attributes, including being slim, looking attractive and looking young.

Medibank’s GP, Dr Ian Boyd, said that while generally the results of Medibank Health Check #4  were pleasing, the younger respondents tended to be more focused on body image than on overall health, which was concerning.

“37 per cent of 25-34 year olds believe an attractive body shape means you are in good health.  This compares to only 14 per cent of people of over 65s,” Dr Boyd said.

“According to the Victorian Government health initiative – The Better Health Channel – a significant proportion of Australians have an unhealthy body image with 45 per cent of women and 23 per cent of men in the healthy weight range believing they are over weight.  At least 20 per cent of women who are underweight think they are over weight and are dieting[1]. 

“This is a concerning situation for younger Australians with poor body image being linked to binge eating, over exercise, depression and general poor health.

“On a more positive note, health-related attributes such as good diet, active and stable lifestyle were seen as the most important determinants of health and attractiveness and losing weight. Eating better and getting active were the most popular steps people would take to improve their appearance and wellbeing highlighting the link people made between being healthy and attractive.”

Key findings of the Medibank Health Check #4 include:

  • Feeling good, healthy eating and being active were seen as the most important features of health and wellbeing;
  • Confidence, good teeth stable lifestyle and good eating habits were seen as the most important determinants of attractiveness;
  • Eating habits, exercise and weight were the leading attributes of a healthy person;
  • Losing weight, eating better and getting active were the most popular steps people would take to improve their appearance and wellbeing

Although there was broad agreement that there is more pressure today on how you look as opposed to how healthy you are, more people disagree with the statement “An attractive body shape means you are healthy” than any other statement tested.

ENDS

About the Medibank Health Check:

The Medibank Health Check is a quarterly survey focusing on issues where Australians have noticed some health or wellbeing impacts and personal action or involvement of the health services sector may be required.

The Medibank Health Check aims to inform debate around emerging health related issues and unpack what may be required to take action to address emerging health concerns.

For the fourth Health Check, we chose to look at how people view physical appearance – how you look on the ‘outside’ – with inner health and wellbeing.  We wanted to find out whether Australians believed health was only skin deep and whether body image was a proxy for good health.

The first three Medibank Health Check reports looked at: (i) the health impact of ‘screen-time’ and (ii) life aspirations and where ‘living in good’ health rated on Australians list and (iii) explored Australians’ views on health and wellbeing in the workplace – its importance, responsibilities and health impacts.


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