Models under 16 should be banned from the catwalks and tougher measures introduced to protect their older teenage peers from eating disorders, an independent inquiry has concluded.

Eating disorders affect as many as 40 per cent of workers where body shape counts, including dancers, athletes and models, although no specific studies of the fashion industry have been made, the inquiry set up by the British Fashion Council found.

In the general population the incidence of eating disorders is about 3 per cent.

The inquiry was launched seven weeks ago in response to concern about demand for "size zero" models. In its interim report, published yesterday, the inquiry panel calls for extra protection for girls aged 16 to 18 to prevent them being exploited.

Models who gave evidence to the inquiry described their fear of being rejected for work because they were not thin enough.

But the report was attacked by the Liberal Democrats' culture spokeswoman in the London Assembly, Dee Doocey, as a "huge disappointment" because it did not include a ban on the use of models with a body mass index of less than 18.5, which means they are underweight, for London Fashion Week. She said: "BMI bans may not be the panacea, but it would be a principled start and send a strong signal to the industry that practices that put young women's health at risk will not be tolerated."

The report says weighing models has not worked in other countries where it has been tried.

The deaths of the Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, and her sister, Eliana, 18, within months of each other last year of eating-related disorders fuelled the debate about the pressure on models to achieve size zero.

The inquiry's report, along with a final set of recommendations, is to be published in September, when the next London Fashion Week takes place.

Report's findings

* Models aged under 16 banned from the catwalks at London Fashion Week.

* Better support for models aged 16 to 18, including chaperoning at shows.

* More evidence on the impact of banning models with BMIs of less than 18.5 from the catwalks.

* Standards to be set for model agencies, including medical checks for models.

* One authority responsible for enforcing regulation in the fashion industry.