Psychiatrists call for crackdown on pro-eating disorder sites

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has called for government action to protect young people from the influence of pro-eating disorder websites.

The college warned dangers to young people had increased from the growth in recent years in the number of pro-anorexia – or “pro-ana” – and pro-bulimia – or “pro-mia” – sites, spurred by the rise in social networking.

Council must do more

In September 2008, the government established the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, but the college pointed out its plans for action did not specifically address pro-eating disorder websites.

The royal college called on the council to expand its definition of harmful web content to include pro-eating disorder websites and to extend its plans to moderate internet sites that promote harmful behaviour to include these sites.

The college also requested that the council specifically address pro-eating disorder websites in its plans to raise awareness of e-safety among parents and teachers.

A “lifestyle choice”

Professor Ulrike 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.”

Schmidt said the broader societal context in which the sites thrived was one in which young women are “constantly bombarded with toxic images of supposed female perfection that are impossible to achieve”.

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