Models under 16 will be banned from London Fashion Week catwalks under new rules proposed today.
Agencies should regularly get models checked for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, a panel of experts said.
But the UK's independent Model Health Inquiry – which was set up in wake of the “size zero” debate – fell short of banning stick-thin girls from shows.
It said weighing models before they hit the catwalk or imposing minimum “body mass index” (BMI) requirements weren’t accurate ways of identifying eating disorders.
Around 40% of models could have anorexia, bulimia or other food-related problems, the inquiry was told.
In its interim report published today, the Model Health Inquiry said girls under 16 were at risk of being sexually exploited by being made to represent adult women.
It called on model agencies to arrange medical checks for eating disorders before putting models on their books, followed by annual check-ups.
A scientific study into the prevalence of eating disorders among fashion models is also needed, the report says.
Outlining the panel’s interim findings today, Model Health Inquiry chair Baroness Kingsmill described the “dark side” of the modelling industry.
“It seems to be there has been a blind eye turned in the past. They look glamorous, they look gorgeous, they are okay. But they are not okay. They are ill, many of them,” she said.
Baroness Kingsmill said the inquiry had highlighted the need for greater protection for models.
“The working conditions of models are pretty appalling. They are young and vulnerable and they have very short careers,” she said.
“We have heard some absolute horror stories from the girls themselves which suggested to us that something more needs to be done to protect these girls.”
Baroness Kingsmill said the panel would consider whether random blood tests for drugs would be appropriate for models during the bi-annual London Fashion Week.
The panel called for a detailed investigation into models’ working conditions and suggested setting up a models’ union.
It is calling on the British Fashion Council, which owns and runs London Fashion Week, to develop new best-practice standards for model agencies.
The panel also wants more information on whether a minimum body mass index (BMI) requirement of 18.5 should be introduced for London Fashion Week models.
This approach, which has already been adopted by Madrid fashion week, is a ratio of height to weight used by doctors to calculate the healthy size for an individual.
The inquiry panel’s full report will be published in September before the next London Fashion Week takes place.
Its recommendations won’t be binding. Instead, it will be up to the fashion industry to regulate itself.
Model Health Inquiry panel members include fashion designers Betty Jackson and Giles Deacon and model Erin O’Connor.
Recent controversy over skinny models was sparked in August 2006, when Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, died of heart failure after not eating for several days.
Her death was followed in November by that of Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model who suffered from anorexia.
The debate about the US size zero – the equivalent of a UK size four – was sparked by celebrities dieting down to the super-thin size.
Responding to today’s interim report, British Fashion Council (BFC) chief executive Hilary Riva said: “There are several key recommendations within the interim report which are consistent with, and support, the BFC’s already well-established policy on minimum model age, no smoking and no drug use at BFC-run venues – issues which the designers showing in London have largely supported over the past years and I am sure will now work with us to enforce in a stronger and more transparent way.”
She said supporting models did not fall within the BFC’s current remit, adding: “If the BFC is to take on a broader role in this important area, new sources of funding will be required.”