April 17, 2009

Publication: Evening Herald

Date: Saturday, April 11, 2009 Page: 14

Author: Jane Last

Headline: Warning over pro-anorexia teen websites

Children could come under the influence of dangerous websites which appear to condone eating disorders, an expert has warned. The number of pro-ana (pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (pro-bulimia) sites has increased rapidly over the last few years. They give damaging advice to youngsters who are suffering from the disorders. They tend to be American and are aimed at children and teenagers, telling them how they can hide their condition.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr John Grffin, director of the Eating Disorder Programme in St Patrick's Hospital, said the worrying trend has been seen in a number of cases in Ireland. "Fortunately, the number is quite small. Despite the mess we are in economically, the family is still strong and parents are aware of the dangers of the internet," he said. Dr Griffin was speaking after a documentary on pro-ana sites was screened in Britain.

Host Fearne Cotton, was shocked to discover that a picture of her taken several years ago had been hijacked by such a site. He is urging Irish parents to continue to monitor their children's activities online in a bid to stop them becoming prey to the websites.

Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, say the sites are hugely damaging. "The messages put out on these sites tend to normalise eating disorders, often promoting them as a life-style choice. "They also create and/or reinforce unhealthy beliefs," said a spokesperson. As a positive alternative to these websites, Bodywhys provides an online support group and an under-25s forum.

Dr Griffin treats children from the age of 14 but says that in some of his cases, the illness begins when they are much younger. Other research has shown evidence of children developing eating disorders at the tender age of nine. As the influence of pro-ana and pro-mia sites in Ireland is still very small, Dr Griffin said there are a number of other contributory factors which could lead to young children developing the illnesses. "Schoolyard bullying is another cause. I treated one 14- year-old who became anorexic at 11 years of age because she was called names in school. "She was called something similar to 'Nellie The Elephant' by other schoolchildren. Such incidents really do have an effect," he said.

With the Size Zero trend threatening to rear it's lollipop head once again in Britain and US, Dr Griffin praised Irish celebrities and the fashion industry here for their positive attitude and the promotion of a healthy dress size. "We have to praise the fashion industry here they are quite positive about size and won't feature girls that are too thin," Dr Griffin said.