February 24, 2010

Airbrushed image alerts 'good for adolescents' by Jennifer Hough


INTRODUCING warning symbols on airbrushed body images to protect young people from developing eating disorders would be "a very welcome" develop- ment, a leading adolescent psychiatrist has said.

Following calls from the Royal College of Psychia- trists in Britain that altered pictures glamorising size zero models be "kitemarked", Professor Fiona McNicholas, who has carried out extensive re- search in. the area, said she fully endorsed the idea.

Prof McNicholas said, more than ever before, young people felt under serious pressure to conform to a certain image of beauty which only a tiny minority could in reality achieve.

In a study of 3,000 young people in Ireland, carried out by Prof McNicholas, more than three quarters said they felt under pressure to obtain an ideal image.

Bodywhys, the Eating Disorder Association . of Ireland, is running an eating disorders awareness week, and said size zero images •were a "huge problem" for young people.

Bodywhys communica- tions officer Ruth Ni Eidhin said it had previously drawn up media guidelines, but said the debate needed to be opened up and bolstered by a high-profile campaign.

The Department of Health estimates that up to 200,000 people in Ireland may be affected by eating disorders. An estimated 400cases emerge each year,which could result in 80deaths annually. This figurerepresents the highest mor-tality rate of all psychiatricconditions. In spite of this,however, there are no pub-licly funded national hospi-tal beds dedicated to peoplewith eating disorders.

Young people with aneating disorder are usuallyreferred to child and adoles-cent mental health units.

However, these teams areunder enormous pressureand often do not have theexpertise to deal with such aspecialised illness.

Dr Siobhan Barry, clinicaldirector at St John of Godcommunity mental healthservice, said while kitemark-ing images would be ofsome help, there were muchmore important step's whichneeded to be taken.

Dr Barry said there wasno coherent national strate-gy for people suffering fromeating disorders. She saidwhile eating disorders weremainly a psychological issue,they had a very high mortal-ity rate and it was imperativeto have access to a generalhospital setting. She said itwas better to be treated in afully integrated medical fa-cility.

"People with eating disor-ders need access to a dieti-cian and a range of medicalservices, for their veryprecarious state physically aswell as mentally.