. PSHEeducation | New research shows how anxiety in girls is increasing

Sexualised images of women in advertising and social media are leading to an increase in emotional problems among young girls, new figures suggest.

Girls aged between 11 and 13 are now more likely to worry, lack confidence or feel nervous than they were five years ago because they feel under pressure.

The rise in girls suffering from emotional problems may be linked to stress brought on by seeing images of women portrayed as sex objects on Facebook, Twitter and other websites, researchers from University College London believe.

Their survey of 1,600 pupils in Years 7 and 8 showed that an increase in time spent on social media and the pressure to perform academically could have contributed to the rise.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, compared the mental health of schoolchildren in 2014 with a sample from 2009.

The girls and boys were asked to identify how often they worry, feel unhappy, get nervous, lose confidence, feel scared or suffer from headaches and sickness.

It found that there are now an average of three girls in every 2014 class feeling sad or nervous, compared to just one or two in a 2009 class.

The number of schoolgirls likely to suffer emotional problems also rose from 13 per cent in the 2009 study to 20 per cent – one in five – in 2014.

Lead author Dr Elian Fink said: ‘Five years is a relatively short period of time, so we were surprised to see such a sharp spike in emotional problems among girls.’

Co-author Dr Miranda Wolpert said: ‘This study highlights the significant and growing emotional problems reported by young girls today.

‘We can’t say for sure why problems are increasing, but there are many factors that could contribute.

‘These include increasing stresses on girls and young women, ranging from academic pressure to their increasing sexualisation and objectification amplified by social media.’

The classes sampled in the research were not nationally representative, as 38 per cent of the children in the study were from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared with a national average of 20 per cent.

But the study is the latest of many that shows anxiety is increasing among schoolgirls.

Official figures released last month showed that one in five girls of primary school age has been on a diet.

Research by the Government Equalities Office found that as young girls progress through school, their body image deteriorates rapidly.

The Body Confidence Progress Report 2015 states that poor body image is a ‘public health problem’ and an ‘equalities issue’ that can limit the opportunities available to women and girls. [Daily Mail. 20.4.15]