Teenage girls are becoming involved in dangerous games of competitive dieting thanks to the proliferation of pro-anorexia websites.
Between 400 and 500 websites promoting anorexia and related eating disorders, which are visited by thousands of young girls each day, have been identified in the first review to quantify the phenomenon.
They tell people how to stay thin, promoting diets of 400-500 calories a day (compared with a recommended 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men), backed by coffee, cigarettes and diet pills.
In one year, more than 500,000 people visited the sites, according to one study, and a 2011 EU survey found that more than one in five 6 to 11-year-olds had been exposed to one or more sites with “harmful content”.
Dr Emma Bond, senior lecturer in childhood and youth studies at the University Campus Suffolk, Ipswich, who carried out the review, said the sites were set up by individuals with eating disorders who in some cases generated a following of almost religious intensity. There was no evidence of commercial involvement.
“In under two hours, she had 36 followers saying things like ‘You’re wonderful, you’re an inspiration to me, I’m only fasting because of you’.”
Many focus on purging, starving and the use of laxatives and diet pills which cannot be obtained in the UK but are available on the internet. Some include advice on self-harming and have links to pro-suicide sites.
A disturbing feature of anorexia is the rivalry that can occur between “ana-buddies” who meet on the websites and vie with each other to starve themselves to the point where their lives may be in danger.
Anorexia usually begins in adolescence, affecting 1 to 2 per cent of teenagers and university students, though it can occur at any age. Dr Bond said the threat posed by the sites should be tackled through a combination of education and better policing. “Eating disorders are not going away, if anything they are becoming more common,” she said.
Source: THE INDEPENDENT