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Call for media to stop “glamorising” eating disorders

The Royal College of Psychiatrists calls for a new editorial code to encourage the media to stop promoting unhealthy body images
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
 woman holding skinny belly

23rd February 2010 - Psychiatrists say they’re increasingly concerned about the harmful influence the media has on people’s body image and self-esteem. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) is calling for a new editorial code to encourage the use of images showing people with a broader range of body shapes.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrienne Key, of the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section, says in a statement, “There is a growing body of research that shows the media plays a part in the development of eating disorder symptoms - particularly in adolescents and young people.”

Psychiatrists say that, although biological and genetic factors play a part in the development of conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, exposure to images of airbrushed bodies and super-thin models are also responsible. “That’s why we are calling on the media to take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out, says Dr Key.

Stop promoting thin people: Psychiatrists

RCPsych says it’s particularly worried about three areas:

  • The promotion of thin people as the ideal body size and images which give the impression that physical perfection is attainable
  • A deluge of articles about dieting and plastic surgery portrayed as a means to enhance self-esteem
  • Media coverage of eating disorders as “mild”, rather than serious mental illnesses

The psychiatrists are calling on editors to ban featuring underweight models altogether and instead use people of varying weight, shape, age, disability and ethnic background. It also wants to see a “kite mark” scheme brought in to raise awareness about which photographs have been digitally enhanced to manipulate a model’s looks.

Call for a new editorial code

RCPsch is also calling for the next government to setting up a forum to develop a new editorial code covering body imagery and articles on dieting and eating disorders.

The RCPsych campaign is being supported by the eating disorders charity, Beat. Its chief executive, Susan Ringwood, says in a statement: “We welcome this call to action from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The media is a powerful influence and we know how vulnerable some people at risk of eating disorders can be to its visual images in particular.

“We know there is more that can be done to make that influence a positive one, and adopting the recommendations of the College’s statement would be an important step.”

Reviewed on February 23, 2010

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