THE UK Government should scrap the use of BMI as a health measure and the planned implementation of calorie labels in restaurants, a new report has urged.

The Women and Equalities committee has warned that the pandemic has had a "devastating" impact on people who suffer from eating disorders, and those at risk of developing one.

Members of the committee have branded the government's obesity strategy as "dangerous" for people who have negative body image issues, and suggest that it could actually lead to the development of eating disorders in those it is designed to help.

A report published today following the committee's inquiry into body image suggests scrapping the use of Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of individual health, as it can contribute to mental health problems and eating disorders.

It also recommends a ban on adverts that use altered images, which can contribute to negative body image.

The report said: "We have been hugely saddened to hear of the number of people who have faced appearance and weight-based discrimination when accessing NHS services.

"The use of BMI inspires weight stigma, contributes to eating disorders, and disrupts people’s body image and mental health.”

Instead of using BMI, it recommends that health bodies adopt a “health at every size” approach, which takes into account factors such as age, ethnicity and gender, and prioritises healthy lifestyle choices over correcting weight.

On the UK Government's obesity strategy, the committee said that it was “at best ineffective and at worst perpetuating unhealthy behaviours” and called an independent review into the evidence base for its policies.

It also urged the Government to immediately scrap plans for calorie labels on food in restaurants, cafes and takeaways, amid concerns it will contribute to growth in eating disorders and disordered eating.

MPs also called on the Government to bring forward legislation restricting or banning the use of altered images in adverts, over concerns this is contributing to poor body image.

Committee chairwoman Caroline Nokes said: “Over the past 10 years, there has been a wealth of research and recommendations on how to tackle negative body image but Government action in this area is limited – we need to see urgent action.

“The pressure will intensify as gyms and beauty salons reopen on Monday,” the Conservative MP added.

“This may be exciting for some but it will be difficult for people who experience body image anxieties. It’s critical that Government action works towards improving body image.”

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at the eating disorders charity Beat, said: “This past year has been particularly difficult for those affected by eating disorders, with Beat’s helpline alone delivering 100,000 support sessions and seeing a 302% increase in demand, and we believe further measures urgently need to be taken to protect those at risk.

“We welcome the committee’s call for an urgent review into eating disorder rates, and to ensure that there is sufficient support available for those affected.

“BMI should never be used as the sole factor in diagnosing eating disorders, or for determining who is ‘unwell enough’ to access treatment.

“This can lead to potentially dangerous delays, and can drive people deeper into eating disorders in order to be taken seriously.

“The Government’s obesity strategy must be immediately reviewed, as it includes measures known to be dangerous to those unwell or vulnerable, such as listing calories on menus.

“We believe that none of the measures that pose risks should be implemented until this review has taken place.

“We strongly support the call for increased, ring-fenced funding for eating disorder research, as they remain one of the most poorly understood mental illnesses.”