Model Coco Rocha

As fashion magazines agree to ban excessively thin models, US study finds potential new treatment

Small doses of an anti-psychotic drug may help to treat anorexia, according to a new study in the United States. Researchers at the University of Chicago found olanzapine improves anorexia survival among mice. Mice treated with low doses of the drug were more likely to maintain their weight when given an exercise wheel and restricted access to food, conditions that produce activity-based anorexia in animals. The antidepressant fluoxetine did not improve survival in the experiment.

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, was the result of a collaboration between laboratory scientists and clinicians seeking new treatment options for the eating disorder.

Co-author Daniel Le Grange, professor of psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience and director of the Eating Disorders Clinic at the University of Chicago Medicine, said one challenge was finding a medication patients with anorexia would agree to take. "Patients are almost uniformly very sceptical and very reluctant to take any medication that could lower their resolve to refrain from eating," he said. "There are long-standing resistances, and I think researchers and clinicians have been reluctant to embark on that course, since it's just littered with obstacles."

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition that affects one in 200 women and one in every 2,000 men. Mary George, a spokeswoman for the eating disorders charity Beat, said 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder and that we were still learning about why people develop them. "Any new research is welcome, and if there are drugs available that will help, then obviously it is all to the good," she said.

Last week, Vogue magazine announced it was banning models with visible signs of eating disorders from its glossy pages. The 19 editors of its international editions, including the British editor, Alexandra Shulman, have also pledged to not use any models under the age of 16. The new guidelines will come into effect for the June edition of the British magazine.

The model Coco Rocha was among those to welcome the changes. Last month, she criticised another fashion magazine – Elle Brasil – for using Photoshop to alter pictures of her. She claimed that although she wore a body suit under a sheer dress for a cover shoot, it was Photoshopped out to give the impression she was showing much more skin than she in fact was.

A separate e-petition calling on the Government to ban airbrushing of images and adverts aimed at children in the UK had reached more than 2,000 signatures yesterday. The petition will be considered for debate in the Commons if it gets at least 100,000 signatures. It states that airbrushed photos subject children to "completely unattainable images" and give "a false representation of beauty and thinness".

The petition was launched by Lynne Johnston and her 20-year-old daughter Rachael, a recovering anorexic who was at one point given 48 hours to live after her weight dropped to four-and-a-half stone. Last week, Rachael admitted that seeing airbrushed pictures of celebrities in magazines had not helped her illness.