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Millions of people in the UK are depressed because of the way they think they look, according to a new campaign aimed at changing attitudes to body image.

Be Real: Body Confidence for Everyone is being launched to mark the start of Body Confidence Week.

Those behind the campaign have released figures which show that 16 million people in the UK are depressed due to the way they think they look and 18 million people do not exercise due to body anxiety.

One in four people say body image has held them back from enjoying a fulfilling relationship, and one in five have avoided going for a job they wanted for the same reason.

The Be Real campaign says that the pressure of trying to achieve an unrealistic ideal body is trapping millions of people in the UK in an unhealthy cycle of depression, short-term dieting, cosmetic intervention and eating disorders.

Be Real was formed in response to the 2012 Reflections on Body Image report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image. It is chaired by Tory MP Caroline Nokes and run by the youth charity YMCA.

Ms Nokes said: Low body confidence is a critical public health issue that we cannot ignore.

It affects everyone - all ages, both sexes - and starts as young as five years old.

Be Real wants to change attitudes to body image, and help all of us, whatever our size, ethnicity or ability, to put health above appearance and be confident with how we look and feel.

The MP said: Through this campaign, we re driving change through three priority areas.

We want to ensure children and young people are educated about body confidence from an early age, to promote healthy living and wellbeing over weight loss and appearance, and to encourage the media, business and advertisers to recognise diversity and positively reflect what we really look like.

According to Be Real, a quarter of those surveyed said they struggled to keep up exercise and diet regimes, and a fifth said they skip meals to lose weight.

A third said they return to their previous weight after dieting and more than one in seven people have considered cosmetic interventions.

Almost a fifth of 18-24 year olds are currently taking muscle building supplements to improve the way they look, the campaign said.

One in four say they have avoided speaking out at school or in a meeting due to body issues and a fifth say anxiety around the way they look has stopped them going for the job they wanted.

Be Real has been founded in partnership with Dove health and beauty products and is coordinated by YMCA.

Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England, says: Too often the way we look becomes a measure of who we are and there is a growing pressure to achieve an aesthetic ideal that few of us can live up to.

When we feel bad about how we look, we make bad choices about our health and are stopped from achieving our full potential. We are seeing this amongst young people, both boys and girls, across the country and urgently need to help them become confident about who they are and what they look like.

The campaign is sponsored by bareMinerals, Debenhams, Facebook, Forster Communications, Government Equalities Office, N Brown, New Look, Superdrug and YMCA, with All Walks Beyond the Catwalk as a lead ambassador.

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