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

Psychiatrists urge action to tackle ‘pro-ana’ websites danger

Embargoed until 18 September 2009

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 a new 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 websites.
  • Specifically address pro-eating disorder websites in its plans to raise awareness of e-safety among parents and teachers.

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 dissatisfaction.

“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 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



Royal College of Psychiatrists' Eating Disorders Section: Position paper on pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites[2].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.


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