INTRODUCING warning symbols on airbrushed body images to protect young people from developing eating disorders would be “a very welcome” development, a leading adolescent psychiatrist has said.
Following calls from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain that altered pictures glamorising size zero models be “kitemarked”, Professor Fiona McNicholas, who has carried out extensive research 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 communications officer Ruth Ní 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 400 cases emerge each year, which could result in 80 deaths annually. This figure represents the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric conditions. In spite of this, however, there are no publicly funded national hospital beds dedicated to people with eating disorders.
Young people with an eating disorder are usually referred to child and adolescent mental health units. However, these teams are under enormous pressure and often do not have the expertise to deal with such a specialised illness.
Dr Siobhán Barry, clinical director at St John of God community mental health service, said while kitemarking images would be of some help, there were much more important steps which needed to be taken.
Dr Barry said there was no coherent national strategy for people suffering from eating disorders. She said while eating disorders were mainly a psychological issue, they had a very high mortality rate and it was imperative to have access to a general hospital setting. She said it was better to be treated in a fully integrated medical facility.
“People with eating disorders need access to a dietician and a range of medical services, for their very precarious state physically as well as mentally.”
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