People running 'thinspiration' or pro-anorexia websites in France will now face a prison sentence and maximum £7,000 fine / Reuters

A British eating disorder charity says amendment criminalises people who are often living with eating disorders themselves

People who run pro-anorexia websites or promote extreme thinness online could now face a prison sentence and substantial fine under an amendment to a law passed in France.

The measure voted through on Thursday allows for authorities to punish anyone "provoking people to excessive thinness by encouraging prolonged dietary restrictions that could expose them to a danger of death or directly impair their health”, The Telegraph reports.

Those who are convicted of running pro-anorexia websites, which are often referred to as ‘pro-ana’ or 'thinspirational' sites, could be jailed for up to a year and fined a maximum €10,000 (£7,333).

The two members who tabled the amendment, Maud Olivier and Catherine Coutelle, said 'pro-ana' sites can cause people to become trapped in a “vicious circle of anorexia” that authorities are unable to tackle.

However, a British eating disorder charity said criminalising those behind such sites is unhelpful as they are often living with anorexia or another eating disorder themselves. There are an estimated 725,000 people affected by an eating disorder in the UK.

Mary George, a spokesperson for Beat, said the organisation would be against introducing similar measures in the UK. Ms George told The Independent:  “We wouldn’t be in favour of that at all because the majority of people who run these sites are ill – criminalising them is not helpful.

“What we do want is to try and encourage people to go to pro-recovery sites, although we do acknowledge that people who visit pro-recovery sites often visit pro-anorexic websites because they feel they are understood there and that there is a sense of community.

“In a perfect world, we would love internet providers to remove any inappropriate comments in the same way they do with suicide, racism and homophobia, but we realise that that is not altogether possible because as soon as you close one site down, another will open up.

"It is an on-going problem and what we want is for people not to be influenced by them and to look at pro-recovery sites instead."

The amendment to the public health law in France comes after a proposal to fine and impose prison sentences upon those employing excessively thin models was dropped on the grounds that it would violate France’s employment law.

The proposed amendment tabled by Dr Olivier Véran, a Socialist MP and neurologist, would have required modelling agencies to provide medical certificates proving models have a healthy body mass index (BMI).

Mr Véran said he was disappointed that his proposal was not successful but welcomed the amendment passed.