Experts say Britons face an “onslaught” of New Year fad diets which many are taking up under mounting pressure to look perfect.
And the country’s fixation with weight is growing, with the word “diet” mentioned more than 1,200 times in media articles in the first five days alone of January 2014 – 43 per cent up on the year before and 66 per cent more than in 2012.
The national body confidence campaign Be Real said Britons are “bombarded” with idealised images of celebrities and models, driving many into depression and despair.
They urged people to avoid fad diets this New Year and focus on living healthier lives instead.
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of Be Real, said: “People are increasingly obsessed with diets. But actually, at the same time as a nation we are getting bigger. It is obviously a fixation that doesn’t work.
“The sad reality is that somebody of any age can become fixated about dieting to achieve the perfect body.
“But young women are likely to be more affected by it and feel greater pressure than other sectors of the population.”
Ms Nokes, who is also chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, said a fixation with how we look is also affecting young children.
“It is incredibly sad. The obsession we have with achieving the perfect body is affecting children, not just teenagers but pre-teens,” she added.
“I realise there is a real problem with obesity, but I am far from convinced that fat shaming and demonising people and promoting fad diets is the right way of countering that. We need to increase people’s self esteem.”
According to the survey of 2,000 adults commissioned by the campaign, a fifth of adults have skipped meals in a bid to lose weight and a quarter admit they struggle to keep up exercise and diet regimes.
A fifth admit they would lose a finger to achieve the perfect body shape, while a third say they have returned to their previous weight after dieting.
Charlotte Dickens, a GP and chairwoman of the campaign’s health committee, said people are risking their health striving for unachievable perfection.
She said: “Many of my patients are young people at a London university, and we are seeing increasing levels of dissatisfaction about how people look and the importance they place on it.
“There are eating disorders, but also anxiety and depression which is stopping people going out to lectures because they are unhappy with the way they look.
“It is having a big impact on their ability to live and work and be happy.”
Holli Rubin, a psychotherapist specialising in body image, said: “Dieting and losing weight top the New Year resolutions lists every year and the pressure this causes often means we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
“The cycle of dieting is very hard to break and very bad for our general health and well being.”
Be Real is a campaign to change attitudes to body image, and includes schools, businesses and charities.