Body image and health have been shown to be linked through psychological conditions and social pressures. A person who has low self-esteem is more likely to be depressed or experience other mental distress that could lead to the development of an eating disorder or other medical problems. While these problems are sometimes intentional actions, some of them — such as obesity — can involuntarily result from problems such as untreated depression. In some people who suffer from a poor body image, a cycle develops in which low self-esteem causes health problems that further exacerbate the poor self-image. There are few consistently effective treatments for such conditions, although behavioral psychotherapy has been known to work more often than other types of treatments.
One of the most recorded correlations between body image and health is the development of eating disorders. Low self-esteem can lead a person to try to change the physical appearance of his or her body to match the mental body image, which can lead to drastic changes in eating habits. This often is because of the person's perception of being overweight or a body image that is completely unrealistic. An eating disorder can lead to a number of health issues, including stomach and digestive problems, kidney failure and, in some cases, death.
Another link between body image and health can occur when a person is struggling with an unrealistic body image that might be reinforced through society and media. This can lead to depression and anxiety focused on the belief that others are judging or ridiculing the person. This type of depression and anxiety can be the start of a pattern of inactivity and isolation. In some situations this can end in obesity, substance abuse, malnutrition or suicide attempts.
There is sometimes a social perception that those with problems related to body image and health are mostly women and mostly adolescents. Research has shown the actual distribution of these types of disorders to be evenly spread between men and women. It also shows that issues with body image can manifest at almost any age. While there are markers in some people that can help to predict whether self-esteem issues might arise later in life, these are far from consistently accurate.
There is no single treatment for people who are suffering from issues dealing with their body image. Although some of the health problems related to body image can be immediately treated, it will not stop the behavior that caused the problem in the first place. Behavioral psychotherapy is one type of treatment that does see a high rate of success among patients who undergo it. Medication is another option, mostly targeted at treating the depression and anxiety that come with low self-esteem.