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'Pro-ana' websites attacked by psychiatrists

Friday September 18th, 2009

By Jane Collingwood
Pro-anorexia websites must be targeted as "harmful" by the government, psychiatrists said today.

The government isn't doing enough, warns Professor Ulrike Schmidt of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Eating Disorders Section.

She says: "Pro-ana (pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (pro-bulimia) websites advocate anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa as a lifestyle choice, rather than as serious mental disorders. Even for healthy young women, viewing such websites induces low mood, low self-esteem and increased body dissatisfaction."

She is calling for urgent government action against these websites which are increasing in number.

Plans made in September 2008 by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety do not go far enough, Professor Schmidt says, because they fail to specifically address pro-eating disorder websites.

A new position paper published by the College today (September 18) calls on the Council to expand its definition of "harmful web content" to include these sites, to extend plans to moderate the sites, and to include the sites in awareness-raising campaigns.

"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," Professor Schmidt warns.

"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," she added.

She supports the "All Walks Beyond the Catwalk" fashion showcase, which promotes more diverse body imagery, as well as the Liberal Democrats' proposed policies on body image.

Tags: Child Health | Diet & Food | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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