I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 37 together.
On 15 October, I launched the report of a survey on young people’s body image, which marks an important milestone in giving young people a voice on this important issue. This survey was carried out directly on foot of a key recommendation from Dáil na nÓg 2010. At that assembly, the young delegates considered the importance of body image to teenagers’ mental health and, noting the lack of national data on teenagers’ body image, decided that it was an issue worth researching. The survey was completed by 2,156 young people, which is a large number given that poll information is often provided on the basis of 1,000 respondents, and it gives us new insights into how teenagers perceive themselves in an area of critical importance to their mental health.
The survey found that body image is a burning issue for young people in Ireland, with 77% of participants ranking body image as important to them. Of those surveyed, 57% expressed some level of satisfaction with their body image, which means 43% were dissatisfied. Comparison with others emerged as the most negative influence on girls’ body image, whereas bullying was the strongest negative influence on boys’ body image. We do not hear much about the impact of bullying on boys but this survey identified it as an important issue for them. The importance of media and celebrities in influencing teenagers’ body image also ranked as highly significant. The report also contains a number of international comparisons.
The young people called for action in schools and recommended an awareness campaign aimed at teenagers. They also advised that we should examine access to sports for young people. It was disturbing to find that many young girls dropped out of physical education and swimming activities in schools for the wrong reasons. Schools can take initiatives to monitor these developments. They also asked for more discussion of personal development in schools.
They also looked at the issue of vending machines in schools and recommended that if they were provided in schools, they should offer healthy food options. There is a series of practical recommendations on which we can take action. This goes beyond the remit of my Department and there is work to be done on the side of health promotion by the Department of Health. The new children and young people's policy framework will be about a whole of government approach to these issues. There are interesting findings in the report which need to be examined to see which Departments should progress the recommendations.