Body dissatisfaction and adolescent mental illness: understanding causal associations and mechanisms to inform preventative interventions

Year of award: 2022


  • Dr Francesca Solmi

    University College London, United Kingdom

Project summary

Incidence of adolescent depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders has increased in the past 20 years. During this time, adolescent body dissatisfaction has also soared. Body dissatisfaction is a key risk factor for eating disorders, but robust longitudinal evidence on whether it is also a risk factor for depression, anxiety and self-harm, that trans-diagnostic universal preventative interventions could target, is limited. There is also limited longitudinal research on risk factors – and their underlying mechanisms – for body dissatisfaction in general population adolescent samples. This evidence is needed to adapt existing school-based interventions and increase their effectiveness.


- Investigate the causal role of body dissatisfaction in the aetiology of adolescent mental illness.

- Identify novel risk factors for adolescent body dissatisfaction.

- Understand aetiological mechanisms underpinning body dissatisfaction.


- Aim 1: I will triangulate robust methodological approaches for causal inference in large twin cohorts and UK electronic health records.

- Aims 2-3: I will conduct a four-year school-based cohort study co-produced with adolescents, teachers, parents. I will collect observational, experimental and digital data to gain a novel understanding of aetiological mechanisms unpinning adolescent body dissatisfaction.


My research will inform policy recommendations and lead to the development of new preventative interventions.