Demand for govt action on pro-anorexia websites

By staff

Psychiatrists are calling on the government to act on pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites today, after growing concern at their increased prevalence on the net.

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.

“Pro-ana websites normalise illness,” said professor Schmidt, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders Section.

“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.”

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.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Department is concerned about websites encouraging anorexia and we continue to look at ways to encourage youngsters to look at more positive messaging.

“For example, we have recently been working with a media agency who offered their expertise pro-bono to develop new advertisements directing youngsters to more appropriate sites.”

In a new position paper published today, 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.

The publication of the College’s position paper coincides with the start of London Fashion Week.

Several celebrities are planning on demonstrate against sweatshops today outside the event’s main venue.