A panel of experts set up to investigate health problems among models also called for greater protection for 17 and 18-year-olds, including chaperoning at shows.
But the independent Model Health Inquiry, set up in the wake of the size zero debate, ruled out weighing all models because it had been ineffective in other countries.
Panel members called for a rigorous scientific study into the prevalence of eating disorders among fashion models. During the inquiry, they heard from many models who described the fear of not being selected for work because they were not thin enough, according to panel chairwoman Baroness Kingsmill.
In particular, they want more information on whether a minimum body mass index (BMI) requirement of 18.5 should be introduced for London Fashion Week models.
This approach has already been adopted by Madrid fashion week.
In its interim report, the panel called for a detailed investigation into models’ working conditions and outlined a positive case for setting up a union for the modelling profession.
The panel said models under 16 were particularly vulnerable. It mentioned the risk of children being sexually exploited when they were made to represent adult women.
It called on the British Fashion Council, which owns and runs London Fashion Week, to develop new best-practice standards for model agencies.
Agencies should arrange medical checks including screening for eating disorders when they first put a model on their books. This should be followed by annual check-ups, the panel said.
The College of Psychiatrists told the panel models with a BMI of below 18.5 — which means they are underweight — should be banned from the catwalk.
Baroness Kingsmill added: “There was also strongly expressed concern that it is profoundly inappropriate that girls under 16 — under the age of consent — should be portrayed as adult women. The risk of sexualising these children was high and designers could risk charges of sexual exploitation.”
The inquiry is requesting responses to its interim report. Its final report, along with a final set of recommendations is due to be published in September, when the next London Fashion Week takes place.
The probe was launched by the British Fashion Council seven weeks ago.