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.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
June 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Eating disorders
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