Our approach to Public Health must Change

As a General Practitioner, I have always been of the opinion that most of us can and should do more to improve our physical and mental wellbeing.

We are all only too aware of the impending public health emergency brought about by inactivity, poor diet and too little exercise. The pressures of everyday life mean that very few of us, in reality, are living exemplary lives.

At the other end of the spectrum too many of us, particularly young people, are searching endlessly to achieve an appearance which is simply physically impossible to attain.

I have lost count of the number of times patients have seen me in clinic explaining that no matter what they try they are unable to achieve a look similar to a favourite celebrity or reality show contestant. Inevitably this has an impact on their physical and mental health.

Sadly they are usually unaware that the images they see in glossy magazines and on Instagram posts have been digitally enhanced to show a version of physical perfection which is unattainable.

I don’t mean a touch of airbrushing here and there in order to remove a blemish.

Images regularly show elongated legs and unnaturally small waists in female celebrities; and absurdly broad shoulders in their male counterparts.

As a nation we must seek to live healthier lives but equally we must be clear in setting aspirational targets which can never physically be achieved; and that comes down to making sure publishers and advertisers act responsibly in the way they enhance those already exemplary human specimens into the anatomically absurd.

Other countries are in front of us in tackling this serious problem of the digital age. In Israel the ‘photoshop law’ ensure advertisers must state where models have been digitally slimmed.

Since 2017 French legislation has required the statement ‘photographie retouchée’ to be shown on edited images, non-compliance can result in significant fines of up to 37,500 Euros.

Even in the US the Truth in Advertising Act of 2016 requires the FTC to submit a report to Congress outlining the prevalence of advertising that has materially changed the appearance and physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of people depicted.

To this point in the UK, regulation, except for voluntary codes of practice, has been non-existent.

Since entering parliament I have had preliminary discussions with ministers to ask what can be done to tackle the issue. In the coming months I will speak not only to advertisers but also advocacy groups who see the impact digital enhancements can have on vulnerable people.

In a changing world, we have to keep pace with the real threats which technology can present. This is a problem which didn’t exist twenty years ago, sadly it’s all too real now.

Dr Luke Evans is a GP, and the Member of Parliament for Bosworth

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