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April

Size zero culture damages models and general public

APRIL 01, 2008

Professor Janet Treasure from the Eating Disorders Research Unit at King's held a briefing for the national press on the eve of publication of her editorial 'Models as a high-risk group: the health implications of a size zero culture', published on 1st April  in the British Journal of Psychiatry.  The editorial, co-authored with Elizabeth Wack from the University of Central Florida and Marion Roberts at the Institute of Psychiatry, considered the implications of the fashion industry's expectation of thinness on the models' health, as well as in the context of public health and concluded that the size zero culture of the fashion industry is damaging to both models and the general public. 

Professor Treasure writes: 'The promotion of the thin ideal, together with ready access to highly palatable foods, produces a 'binge-priming' environment that might explain the huge increase in eating disorders seen in women over the last half of the 20th century.'  If binge priming occurs in adolescence, when the developing brain is vulnerable, young women may suffer from persistent eating problems and be more prone to develop other addictive behaviours such as substance misuse.  Constant exposure to media images of ultra-thin women reduces body-related self esteem, evidence from 25 research studies showed this was most prevalent in adolescents. 

Successful interventions have been made in the areas of sport and dance and the UK Sport guidelines were cited as an example of this.  However the fashion industry is lagging behind, as evidenced in the Model Health Inquiry, for which Professor Treasure was an expert witness.  Professor Treasure recommends standardisation of care and health for fashion models and public health initiatives be integrated, aimed at reducing obsessive dieting and poor eating habits.  She writes:  'Although it may take time to change...we should not be faint hearted but remember what has similarly been achieved in relationship to cigarette smoking'.

At the briefing for journalists, Professor Treasure contextualised the editorial by giving an overview of the current state of eating disorders research, offering new understanding into the causes of ED, new developments in treatment, including web-based and DVD, as well as outlining research showing the traits that eating disorders share with other conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders.  She drew attention to the relaunched eating dsorders website www.eatingresearch.com bringing together up to the minute research and comprehensive information for sufferers, carers and health professionals and flagged up the desperate need for volunteers, with or without an eating disorder, to take part in current research.  Details can be found on the home page of the aforementioned web site.

For a copy of the Models editorial please refer to the British Journal of Psychiatry April Issue (2008) 192, 243-244. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.107.044164.
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