SUNSHINE Coast youth are under so much pressure to conform to the "body beautiful" mantra that they now list low self-esteem as one of the main issues impacting on their lives.
In a surprise finding, a survey of 500 young people listed poor body image as a key problem on the Coast, alongside drug use and the lack of employment prospects.
Maybe even more surprising, experts say it is young Coast males who are now worst affected.
"If you don't have a six-pack you just don't show your face at the beach any more," one young local man lamented.
"Most of the blokes I know are spending more time in the gym than studying, socialising, chasing girls ... just about anything."
The survey of 15-25 year olds is conducted each year to identify key topics for discussion at the Sunshine Coast Youth Summit.
Jobs, drugs, alcohol, mental health and personal safety are regulars on the list but this year is the first time body image and low self-esteem have rated so highly.
Comments in the study highlighted the Sunshine Coast "image" made youth feel they had to look "perfect" because of the beach-fit environment.
On the eve of this year's summit, Sunshine Coast Youth Partnership project officer Amy Doran said the comments were telling.
"Our number one topic at the forum last year was employment, but this year it's made a transition to issues surrounding mental, physical and emotional health," she said.
Sunshine Coast Children's Development Centre psychologist Lisa Lindley said self-esteem problems were rising, particularly in males.
"A big concern for males is that they're comparing themselves to really muscular bodies in the media," she said.
"A lot of boys are spending hours at the gym, and afortune on protein shakes and even steroids."
Ms Lindley said image problems were more prevalent on the Coast because of the region's culture.
"There's not much of an opportunity for young people to cover up because of the beach culture and hot weather," she said.
Luke Andrews, 22, who was enjoying the sun in Maroochydore on the weekend, said while he was comfortable in his own skin, others around his age struggled with body image.
"Low self-esteem seems to be getting worse over the last few years," he said.
"Particularly in the media for men. It's portrayed that you have to look fit to look good."
The youth summit will be held today at the Mooloolaba campus of Sunshine Coast TAFE.
- Making physical, mental and emotional health a priority to build well-being and reduce stress
- Challenging attitudes: drugs, binge drinking, personal safety and alternative options
- Busting the body image myth and boosting self-esteem