A new study has revealed that diet companies are said to be exploiting young people's insecurity about their body image to sell quick-fix weight-loss plans that do not work.
According to the new study conducted by Central YMCA research, half of girls and a third of boys, with an average age of 14, have dieted to change their body shape, whereas more than one in 10 would take pills to alter their appearance.
AdvertisementAn influential all-party group of MPs is all set to begin a landmark inquiry into body image in the UK this week, including the problems of anorexia, obesity and self-harm.
They will grill diet companies, psychologists, advertisers and ministers on how to tackle the problem.
Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem MP who will chair the inquiry, claimed that conflicting messages prompt people to resort to extreme methods in often-misguided attempts to match computer-enhanced images.
Experts blame a society fixated on appearance, with airbrushing, celebrities and the fashion industry all in the line of fire.
"In the past 15 years, eating disorders have more than doubled. There is a view that we should tell people they should be really thin because we are getting an obesity problem. But starving ourselves is not a healthy way to lose weight," the Independent quoted Swinson as saying.
Between 2009-10, 30 under-10s were admitted to hospital with eating disorders, up from 21 the year before, and nearly a quarter of British women were obese in 2008-09, the highest rate in Europe.
One-fifth of British men were overweight, second only to Malta among European countries.
"There is very strong evidence that diets don't work. Crucial to the diet industry's ongoing success is people wanting to lose weight and wanting quick fixes. So diet firms rely on people having that lack of body confidence. It will be interesting to find out what proportion of people on Weight Watchers are not clinically obese," she added.