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Eye-opening study of disordered-eating Web sites

TO PURGE: You can start off with two fingers or a Toothbrush--3 fingers if nothing is happening. Next, rub the back of your throat; you should feel sort of a Button-ish thing at the back. Well, you need to push it!

That quote from a Web site devoted to disordered eating appears in a study published June 17 in the American Journal of Public Health. The study, conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, assesses the content of 180 Web sites that promote or encourage eating disorders.

Such sites, many of which bill themselves as being "pro-ana" (promoting anorexia) or "pro-mia" (for bulimia), offer varying degrees of information about the nuts and bolts of these disorders. Most overtly encourage taking up, continuing or perfecting the disorder, though about a third offer tips for recovering from them, too. In addition to tools such as calorie counters and BMI calculators, the vast majority (85 percent) feature "thinspirations": photos of skeletal models, actresses and other celebrities.

Most sites have interactive features that allow participants to post poems, music and other tributes to their anorexia or bulimia. And nearly all the sites examined in the study were freely accessible to all comers.

Whenever a topic such as this (others include teen suicide and self-injury, for instance) comes up in the news, I hesitate to write about it because I worry that any publicity might just fan the flames. But the public-health community takes the stance that we need to learn all we can about these phenomena and share information with the public, physicians and parents. As a parent of a 13-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, I shudder to think of either one's coming across one of these sites. But I suppose it's best to be forewarned -- even if that doesn't make me feel forearmed.

Here are some eating-disorder stats.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eating disorders  
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I appreciate that you think that writing about the sites for eating disorders is important, and I agree. But the structure of your post actually does exactly what you fear! Consider - you start off with the 'advice' as your header, you give an overveiw of how the sites operate without any editorializing on why they are so harmful, you only have two sentances that actively relay your disapproval, and the "stats" you link to about eating disorders consist of three (3!) bullet points.

Posted by: Fizziks | June 21, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Fizziks. In the future, please make it clear to readers why these diseases are so harmful rather than flaunting the features of each site. It is important that parents know that these sites exist, but it would also help if children and teenagers knew that they existed so that if they should come across one, the will not feel intrigued and attempt to follow the advice.

Posted by: VeganRunner | June 21, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I have no sympathy for what anorexics and bulimics do to themselves because there is no sympathy or empathy given to those who are overweight or obese. NO ONE wants to admit that more sympathy is given to them because they admire their strength and will in a sick way. The overweight and obese are merely mercilessly mocked and ostracized when they are in JUST as much pain, if not more.... We're a really effed up society.

Posted by: sigmagrrl | June 21, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

The study didn't really find anything except that these sites exist, which we already knew for years now.

Posted by: sarahabc | June 21, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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