16 Million People Are Deeply Affected By Low Body Confidence - Here's Why It Needs To Stop

From fussing incessantly over what to wear to work in the morning to turning the lights down when having sex with your partner, low body confidence can affect us from morning to night.

But, according to a recent study, the consequences of such poor self-esteem cuts far deeper than the superficial. In fact, feeling conscious about our bodies risks damaging health, work prospects and relationships.

The findings mark the start of Body Confidence Week and the launch of Be Real: Body Confidence for Everyone, a new campaign to change attitudes to body image and help people put health above appearance.

Figures show that sixteen million people currently feel "depressed" due to how they look, 1.6 million live with an eating disorder and 18 million do not exercise because of body anxiety.

Be Real’s research suggests the way people feel they look is having a detrimental impact on their personal relationships and achievements.

One quarter say their body image has held them back from having a fulfilling relationship, one in four say they have avoided speaking out at school or in a meeting due to body issues and one fifth say body anxiety has stopped them applying for the job they wanted.

Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image, says the situation is "critical".

“Low body confidence is a critical public health issue that we cannot ignore," she said in a statement. "It affects everyone – all ages, both sexes – and starts as young as five years old."

And it's not just a girls and women who are affected, as Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of youth charity YMCA England, tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.

"Both sexes find themselves influenced by media and advertising, with young girls striving to diet to obtain the ‘model look’ which they see on their screens or online, while equally young men can feel the pressure to restrict their eating, over-exercise or even resort to muscle building supplements and steroids to bulk up," she says.

"Sadly, the problem is often seen as a ‘female’ issue, so the problems faced by young men can easily be overlooked and many are too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help or support."

"We need to accept that eating disorders indiscriminate irrespective of gender, age, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation or social background. After-all, anyone can be affected and theirs no particular demographic for those who fall to the prey of eating disorders."

The Be Real campaign hopes to change attitudes towards body image, by tackling these issues head on and including everyone - regardless of age, gender or ethnicity - in the conversation.

Outlining the strategy for the Be Real Campaign Caroline said: "We’re driving change through three priority areas. We want to ensure children and young people are educated about body confidence from an early age, to promote healthy living and wellbeing over weight loss and appearance, and to encourage the media, business and advertisers to recognise diversity and positively reflect what we really look like.”

Be Real has been founded in partnership with Dove and is coordinated by YMCA. It is sponsored by Bare Minerals, Debenhams, Facebook, Forster Communications, Government Equalities Office, N Brown, New Look, Superdrug and YMCA, with All Walks Beyond the Catwalk as a lead ambassador. It was formed in response to the 2012 Reflections on Body Image report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image and responds to the growing urgency for change.