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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Psychiatrists call for new ‘editorial code’ to end media promotion of a thin body ideal

Embargoed until 23 February 2010

Psychiatrists are today warning of the ‘damaging portrayal’ of eating disorders in the media.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders Section are calling for a new editorial code to be drawn up to encourage the media to stop promoting unhealthy body images and ‘glamorising’ eating disorders.

Instead, the media should be encouraged to use images of people with more diverse body shapes, and help people feel more positive about their own bodies.

Members of the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section say they are increasingly concerned about the harmful influence of the media on people’s body image and self-esteem – and are calling on the government to establish a new Forum to tackle the issue.

The Forum should include representatives from the media and advertising agencies, regulatory bodies, eating disorder experts, eating disorder organisations and politicians.

The psychiatrists are being backed in their call by the eating disorders charity beat.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrienne Key, of the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section, said: “The aims of the Forum should be to collaboratively develop an ethical editorial code that realistically addresses the damaging portrayal of eating disorders, raises awareness of unrealistic visual imagery created through airbrushing and digital enhancement, and also addresses the skewed and erroneous content of magazines.” 

Dr Key continued: “There is a growing body of research that shows the media plays a part in the development of eating disorder symptoms – particularly in adolescents and young people. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are serious mental illnesses. Although biological and genetic factors play an important role in the development of these disorders, psychological and social factors are also significant. That’s why we are calling on the media to take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out.”

In a new statement published today, members of the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section outline three key areas of concern:

  • Visual imagery – pre-teen or underweight models are used by the media and advertising companies to promote a thin body ideal, and airbrushing and digital enhancement is widely used to portray physical perfection that is unattainable in real life.
  • Unbalanced articles – many magazine articles give advice on dieting without giving information about the long-term effectiveness of diets and the dangers of extreme dieting. ‘Body critical’ articles also target celebrities for being overweight, underweight or physically imperfect, which normalises body criticism and can make people dissatisfied with their own bodies.
  • Inaccurate portrayal of eating disorders – many articles ‘glamorise’ weight loss and portray eating disorders as mild disorders or personal weaknesses, rather than serious mental illnesses requiring specialist treatment.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of beat, said: We welcome this call to action from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The media is a powerful influence and we know how vulnerable some people at risk of eating disorders can be to its visual images in particular. We know there is more that can be done to make that influence a positive one, and adopting the recommendations of the College’s statement would be an important step.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896


Note to editors:

Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from February 22 – 28 February


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