Size Zero
Fashion Inc

Fashion for size zero fuels rise in eating disorders among models

By Thair Shaikh

Friday, 6 July 2007

The fashion industry's obsession with size zero could be driving an even bigger increase in eating disorders among models than previously thought, with four out of ten said to be suffering, according to a new study.

A report by the Model Health Inquiry said that known cases of anorexia could be just the "tip of the iceberg" and that there were a growing number of women with hidden eating disorders.

Dr Adrienne Key, a psychiatrist who worked on the report, said: "Girls with anorexia are most prominent but there is a much bigger group with bulimia and other unspecified disorders and the problem appears to be getting worse.

"They are purging or drinking huge amounts of water to conceal their weight. It is highly dangerous because it deprives the body of potassium. Women can drop dead."

The independent inquiry, parts of which were shown to the London newspaper, the Evening Standard, was set up under Baroness Kingsmill by the British Fashion Council to investigate the pressure on models to be extremely thin. It follows the deaths of three South American models, apparently from malnutrition related to eating disorders.

The controversy surrounding zero-sized models has intensified over the past few months, with the fashion industry in Milan and Madrid banning them during their high-profile fashion weeks. Some well-known high-street chains, such as John Lewis, have said they will use "normal" sized women to advertise their clothes.

Dr Key, who has been asked to give talks to modelling agencies about the issue, said: "The model population is classed as at risk. My assumption is that 20 per cent to 40 per cent are suffering from some kind of eating disorder or disordered eating."

She said the industry needed to learn that there was not only anorexia but also bulimia. She said agencies might think they can identify girls with problems, but this was unrealistic.

Dr Key told the inquiry that the solution was not to ban size zero - British size four - but train model agency bookers to look for signs of eating disorders.

Bulimia - known medically as bulimia nervosa - is an eating disorder marked by cycles of binge eating of excessive quantities of food, followed by purging using self-induced vomiting, laxatives or diuretics. The repeated vomiting may cause burns to the oesophagus and occasionally dehydration and chemical imbalances in the blood.

In February, Eliana Ramos, a South American teenage model was found dead from extreme dieting six months after her sister, also a model, died at a fashion show from complications arising from anorexia. Miss Ramos, 18, was found dead in her bedroom by her grandmother, with whom she was staying in Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. Her sister, Luisel Ramos, 22, collapsed and died on the catwalk during a fashion show in Montevideo last year.

Her body mass index (BMI) was found to be below the level considered by the World Health Organisation to be starvation.

Baroness Kingsmill's panel, funded by the London Development Agency, will unveil its interim report next week. It is expected to make recommendations to the industry before London Fashion Week in September.