Written evidence submitted by CLOSER, the home of longitudinal research (UCL Social Research Institute) (IBI0043)


  1. About us:

1.1   CLOSER, the home of longitudinal research[1], brings together leading social and biomedical longitudinal population studies to increase their visibility, use and impact. Our studies[2] comprise of both national and regional studies from across the UK. They include the British Birth Cohort Studies, ONS Longitudinal Study, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Born in Bradford, Southampton Women’s Survey, Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, Generation Scotland, Understanding Society – the UK Household Longitudinal Study, and more.


1.2   CLOSER has been funded by the UKRI Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) since 2012 and is based at the UCL Social Research Institute.


  1. Our reason for submitting evidence:

2.1   CLOSER represents multiple longitudinal population studies across the UK. These national scientific assets follow the same people and households over time, often from birth, collecting a wide array of data and information about study participants, which enable researchers and policymakers to explore people’s complex lives and how changes in society affect health, community and education.

2.2   These studies are recognised as vital sources of evidence on how early circumstances and experiences affect people’s lives from childhood to adulthood, providing insights into individual short and long-term change and the relationship between different elements of people’s complex lives that cannot be obtained from any other data sources. They allow researchers to explore how different groups vary, and how and why people’s lives change, enabling a greater understanding of the difference between causal relationships and correlation.

2.3   Several UK longitudinal population studies ask their participants specific questions about body image:

2.4   Questions include how happy study participants are with their appearance, on body stereotypes, weight perception, and weight-based discrimination. A full list of the questions is in Annex 1.

2.5   Our response focuses on the following question in the call for evidence:


  1. Evidence and insights from UK and international longitudinal population studies:

3.1   Body image amongst adolescents:

“This study’s findings suggest that the proportion of adolescents who were trying to lose weight at age 14 years has increased over the past 30 years.” [2]

“These findings suggest that the growing focus on obesity prevention might have had unintended consequences related to weight-control behaviours” [2]

“Body image concerns at 14-years old predicted smoking, cannabis and drug use, self-harm, and high-risk drinking at 21-years old among a sample of British females, and smoking among British males [… These findings] explain the onset of several risky health behaviours, which originates from body dissatisfaction in early-mid adolescence.” [3]

These findings suggest that failure to meet key emotional developmental milestones from 3 to 7 years of age could confer an increased risk for anorexia nervosa, [(broadly defined and including having negative body image)] [9]


“Sexual minority youth often face adversity due to their stigmatized identities; as a result, they are often disproportionately vulnerable to an array of physical and mental health conditions. The current study indicates that by mid-adolescence, youth in the UK who are identified as sexual minorities are already at much elevated odds of exhibiting a range of disordered eating symptoms relative to their heterosexual peers.” [5]


“These results highlight a trend in which diverse female and male youth are increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies as their BMI increases across the transition from middle school to young adulthood” [11]

“Subjective appraisals of being overweight was found to be the strongest and most consistent predictor of poorer body image […] even after taking into account BMI, [which] suggests that appraising oneself as overweight influences body image and increases the likelihood of dieting and weight loss attempts above and beyond the adolescent’s actual physiology.” [1]


3.2   Body image amongst adults:

The prospective association between obesity and depressive symptoms was in part explained by perceived weight discrimination; adults with obesity were more likely to report experiencing weight-based discrimination, which in turn predicted increases

in depressive symptoms over time.” [17]

“Women with lifetime self-reported eating disorder reported greater body image dissatisfaction and eating concerns in pregnancy […] and these symptoms persisted over an 18-year follow-up. We also found that women with greater body image and eating concerns in pregnancy had higher depressive symptoms across the life course.” [20]


  1. Suggested scrutiny questions:


Dr Neil Kaye, UCL Research Fellow

Rob Davies, Head of Policy and Dialogue

Professor Rebecca Hardy, Director

Jon Tebbett, Project Manager


January 2022



Annex 1: Body image questions in UK longitudinal population studies

MCS – age 11 and age 14


Understanding Society (Youth panel – aged 10 to 16)


ALSPAC – age 13 years 11 months


ALSPAC also ask about Body Stereotype Internalization in the same wave:


ALSPAC (children aged 10 years 8 months)


ALSPAC pregnancy wave (expectant mothers at 18 weeks’ gestation):




ELSA (panel of respondents age 50+)


MCS (age 14)


Weight-based discrimination:


ELSA (panel of respondents age 50+)


Annex 2: Research paper used to inform this evidence submission

[1] Chng, S. & Sani, A.S. (2017). Adolescents’ Subjective Appraisals: Relationships with Body Image and Dieting Attempts. International Journal of the School of Health, 4(3), 1-9.

[2] Solmi, F., Sharpe, H., Gage, S.H., Maddock, J., Lewis, G., & Patalay, P. (2021). Changes in the prevalence and correlates of weight-control behaviors and weight perception in adolescents in the UK, 1986-2015. JAMA Pediatrics, 175(3), 267-275.

[3] Bornioli, A., Lewis-Smith, H., Smith, A., Slater, A., & Bray, I. (2019). Adolescent body dissatisfaction and disordered eating: Predictors of later risky health behaviours. Social Science & Medicine, 238, 1-8.

[4] Howe, L.J., Trela-Larsen, L., Taylor, M., Heron, J., Munafò, M.R., & Taylor, A.E. (2017). Body mass index, body dissatisfaction and adolescent smoking initiation. Drug and alcohol dependence, 178, 143-149.

[5] Calzo, J. P., Blashill, A. J., Brown, T.A., & Argenal, R.L. (2017). Eating disorders and disordered weight and shape control behaviors in sexual minority populations. Current Psychiatry Reports, 19(8), 1-10.

[6] Bould, H., De Stavola, B., Lewis, G., & Micali, N. (2018). Do disordered eating behaviours in girls vary by school characteristics? A UK cohort study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 27(11), 1473-1481.

[7] Lewis-Smith, H., Bray, I., Salmon, D., & Slater, A. (2020). Prospective pathways to depressive symptoms and disordered eating in adolescence: A 7-year longitudinal cohort study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 49(10), 2060-2074.

[8] Kelly, Y., Zilanawala, A., Booker, C., & Sacker, A. (2018). Social media use and adolescent mental health: Findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. EClinicalMedicine, 6, 59-68.

[9] Henderson, M., Bould, H., Flouri, E., Harrison, A., Lewis, G., Lewis, G., Srinivasan, R., Stafford, J., Warne, N. & Solmi, F. (2021). Association of Emotion Regulation Trajectories in Childhood with Anorexia Nervosa and Atypical Anorexia Nervosa in Early Adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry, 78(11), 1249-1257.

[10] Sharpe, H., Fink, E., Duffy, F. & Patalay, P. (2021). Changes in peer and sibling victimization in early adolescence: longitudinal associations with multiple indices of mental health in a prospective birth cohort study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 1-10.

[11] Bucchianeri, M.M., Arikian, A.J., Hannan, A.J., Eisenberg, M.E. & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Body dissatisfaction from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. Body Image, 10(1), 1-7.

[12] De Coen, J., Verbeken, S. & Goossens, L. (2021). Media influence components as predictors of children’s body image and eating problems: A longitudinal study of boys and girls during middle childhood. Body Image, 37, 204-213.

[13] Brylka, A., Wolke, D., Ludyga, S., Bilgin, A., Spiegler, J., Trower, H., ... & Lemola, S. (2021). Physical activity, mental health, and well-being in very pre-term and term born adolescents: An individual participant data meta-analysis of two accelerometery studies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1-12.

[14] Bucci, R. & Staff, J. (2020). Pubertal timing and adolescent delinquency. Criminology, 58(3), 537-567.

[15] Robinson, E. & Sutin, A.R. (2017). Parents’ Perceptions of Their Children as Overweight and Children’s Weight Concerns and Weight Gain. Psychological Science, 28(3), 320-329.

[16] Jackson S.E., Smith L. & Steptoe A. (2020). Weight perceptions in older adults: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. BMJ Open, 10, 1-9.

[17] Robinson, E., Sutin, A., & Daly, M. (2017). Perceived weight discrimination mediates the prospective relation between obesity and depressive symptoms in US and UK adults. Health Psychology, 36(2), 112.

[18] Hockey, A., Milojev, P., Sibley, C.G., Donovana, C.L. & Barlow, F.K. (2021). Body image across the adult lifespan: A longitudinal investigation of developmental and cohort effects. Body Image, 39, 114-124.

[19] Micali, N., Treasure, J., & Simonoff, E. (2007). Eating disorders symptoms in pregnancy: a longitudinal study of women with recent and past eating disorders and obesity. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 63(3), 297-303.

[20] Chua, Y.W., Lewis, G., Easter, A., Lewis, G., & Solmi, F. (2020). Eighteen-year trajectories of depressive symptoms in mothers with a lifetime eating disorder: findings from the ALSPAC cohort. British Journal of Psychiatry, 216(2), 90-96.




[1] https://www.closer.ac.uk

[2] https://www.closer.ac.uk/timeline/

[3] https://www.closer.ac.uk/study/millennium-cohort-study/

[4] https://www.closer.ac.uk/study/alspac-children-90s/

[5] https://www.closer.ac.uk/study/understanding-society/

[6] https://www.closer.ac.uk/study/english-longitudinal-study-of-ageing/