Girls at co-ed high schools feel pressure to be thin

01 April 2016

Herald Sun, 31 March 2016,  

Girls at mixed-sex high schools feel greater pressure to be thin and have lower self-­esteem than those attending girls’ schools, a new study has found. Research from the UK has found “protective factors” in a single-sex environment minimise negative messages about body image felt by many teenage girls. The study of 212 girls with a median age of 13 found the presence of boys may inflate their appearance concerns and lower self-esteem. This finding adds weight to the argument that a single-sex school environment encourages “improved self-esteem, psychological and social wellbeing in adolescent girls”, ­researcher Victoria Cribb said.

“Within this type of school environment, peer friendship groups and support from parents and friends may not be ­diluted by … the pressure to ­appear a certain way in front of boys,” Ms Cribb said.

The study found the two school environments were not very different, but girls at the co-educational school were significantly more likely to internalise social pressure, giving them lower self-esteem. Ms Cribb and co-researcher Dr Anne Haase, from the University of Bristol, found 46 per cent of girls were trying to lose weight, with 23 per cent dieting and 41 per cent exercising. This was despite the fact the majority were within a normal BMI and one third were under weight, with just 13 of the girls being overweight.

Australian research on the same issue has found girls from both single-sex and co-ed schools wanted to be thin, but there was more emphasis on intelligence and professional success at the girls’ school.

Note: Members can read a research abstract of Victoria Cribb and Anne Haase’s journal article in the Alliance’s Research Library