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Mental health experts call for restrictions on image-editing apps

The group says it has concerns over the impact of such apps on the mental and physical health of young people.

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Mental health experts are calling for body and face-editing apps to be age-restricted in order to better protect the mental and physical wellbeing of young people.

The group of experts and organisations have called for the introduction of specific guidelines for app developers, encouraging the consideration of potential health harms within their products.

Led by the Mental Health Foundation, the University of Birmingham and the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group, the experts are urging big tech firms to introduce and enforce restrictions around image-editing technology, as some such apps are currently targeting children from as young as the age of five.

They argue that exposure to such tools can have a negative impact on body image among young people.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Image-editing technology is growing largely unchecked and under the radar, in a space where the potential to negatively impact on children and young people’s lives is significant.

“We have written to five big tech companies to share our concerns and offer our expertise to co-produce guidelines that safeguard and protect children.

“Our work demonstrates that there are serious societal pressures on body image that are driven by the commercial sector.

“We must act now to understand how standalone image-editing apps, and popular in-app filters on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, influence children and young people’s body image and their mental health.

“All of us, including multinational companies, have a responsibility to protect children from technology which is harmful to their mental health.”

Research from the Foundation released in 2019 found that one in four girls and one in 10 boys aged 13 to 19 had edited photos of themselves to change their face or body shape because of concerns about body image.

The call for action comes as the NSPCC has also urged the Government to ensure its Online Harms Bill meets a new set of tests set by the charity in order to be considered strong enough protections for young people online.

“We cannot wait for the academic research to catch up with the rate of development of social media nor can we expect that public education alone will be enough to improve people’s health,” Dr Kousoulis said.

“Using the ‘precautionary principle’ by taking action on the balance of evidence, as a society we need to take steps to protect young people from harmful factors over which they have no personal control.”

Heather Widdows, professor of global ethics at the University of Birmingham and founder of the #everydaylookism campaign against body shaming, said: “As our culture becomes more visual, the pressure to have a perfect body intensifies, as do feelings of failure and shame.

“Body image anxiety is overwhelming for many and apps like this add to pressure and give the message that your face and body need changing and aren’t good enough as they are. We need to take this seriously, it’s not just fun and games.”

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