Psychiatrists today call for urgent action to
protect vulnerable young people from the harmful influence of
pro-eating disorder websites.
So-called ‘pro-ana’ (pro-anorexia) and
‘pro-mia’ (pro-bulimia) websites have existed since the development
of the internet – but their number has soared in recent years with
the growth of social networking.
Now the Royal College of Psychiatrists says
the Government must do more to address the dangers of pro-eating
disorder websites and keep young people safe online. In September
2008, the Government established the UK Council for Child Internet
Safety to deliver recommendations made by Professor Tanya Byron in
her report Safer Children in a Digital World.
But members of the Royal College of
Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders Section
claim the Council’s plans for action do not go far enough because
they fail to specifically address pro-eating disorder websites. In
position paper published today (18 September 2009), the Royal
College of Psychiatrists calls on the Council to:
- Expand its definition of harmful web content
to include pro-eating disorder websites.
- Extend its plans to moderate internet sites
that promote harmful behaviour to include pro-eating disorder
- Specifically address pro-eating disorder
websites in its plans to raise awareness of e-safety among parents
Professor Schmidt, chair of the Royal College
of Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders Section, said: “Pro-ana and
pro-mia websites advocate anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa as a
lifestyle choice, rather than as serious mental disorders. Research
shows that, even for healthy young women, viewing such websites
induces low mood, low self-esteem and increased body
“The broader societal context in which pro-ana
and pro-mia sites thrive is one where young women are constantly
bombarded with toxic images of supposed female perfection that are
impossible to achieve, make women feel bad about themselves and
significantly increase their risk of eating disorders.”
The publication of the College’s new position
paper on pro-ana websites coincides with the start of London
Fashion Week (18-22 September 2009).
Professor Schmidt said: “Pro-ana websites
normalise illness. In much the same way, the catwalks of
international fashion events such as London Fashion Week can act as
a showcase for underweight women. We are very concerned that the
lack of medical checks for models at London Fashion Week, coupled
with working in an environment where being underweight is
considered the norm, prevents models with eating disorders from
gaining insight into their condition.”
Professor Schmidt also urged the fashion
industry to take a lead in promoting a wider range of body images.
Commenting on the All Walks Beyond the Catwalk fashion showcase,
taking place at London's Somerset House tonight, Professor Schmidt
said: "It is vital that the fashion industry promotes more diverse
body imagery, and we applaud the British Fashion Council for this
ground-breaking event. We hope the event will start a dialogue and
promote greater diversity within the fashion industry."
The Eating Disorders Section also welcomes the
Liberal Democrat’s new Real Women policy,
which makes six key recommendations relating to body image.
For further information, please
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Royal College of Psychiatrists' Eating Disorders Section: Position paper on pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/Pro-ANa%202ndof%20June2009.doc
Note to editors:
All Walks Beyond the Catwalk takes place on Friday 18 September 2009. A ground-breaking new project taking place during the 25th Anniversary of London Fashion Week, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk will feature cutting edge designers showcasing a look from their spring/summer 10 collections on models, sizes 8-16 and ages 17-65. Inspired by charity Beat and endorsed by the British Fashion Council, co-founders Caryn Franklin, Debra Bourne, Erin O’Connor and Susan Ringwood, seek to engage the fashion industry in a conversation about body image and expand upon the imagery coming out of the heart of London Fashion Week.