'Thinspiration’ – an alarming online trend

Researchers published a new study in the June 17 online First Look section of the 
American Journal of Public Health that found 180 sites that encouraged unhealthy eating habits and tips, falling into the categories of pro-'AnA' (anorexia) and pro-‘Mia' (bulimia) and promoting these disorders.



Dina L.G. Borzekowski, EdD, an associate professor in the Health, Behavior and Society department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health based in Baltimore, USA, led the study and with her colleagues analyzed 180 active sites, "noting site logistics, site accessories, ‘thinspiration' material (images and prose intended to inspire weight loss), tips and tricks, recovery, themes, and perceived harm."

"Some of the reviewed sites present very dangerous ideas and disturbing material that serve to inform and motivate users to continue behaviors in line with disordered eating and exercise behaviors," said Borzekowski.

The authors noted 91% of the 180 sites had public access, 79% encouraged interaction, 84% offered pro-anorexia content, and 64%  provided pro-bulimia content.

Some sites even focused on eating disorders as a lifestyle choice;  ‘thinspiration' messages were on "85% of the sites, and 83% provided overt suggestions on how to engage in eating disordered behaviors." However, 38% did address "recovery-oriented information or links. Common themes were success, control, perfection, and solidarity."

In conclusion the authors wrote, "Pro-eating disorder Web sites present graphic material to encourage, support, and motivate site users to continue their efforts with anorexia and bulimia. Continued monitoring will offer a valuable foundation to build a better understanding of the effects of these sites on their users."    

‘Thinspiration' sounds like it could be healthy message inspiring people to get thin and fit but after a quick Google and YouTube search it is clearly an unhealthy trend of young women seeking and promoting a warped sense of glossy air-brushed perfection. A number of sites and clips popped up with varying messages from "anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease" to "the only thing that matters is being thin."

As the researchers at John's Hopkins continue to monitor the growth and impact of this alarming trend, it is key that young women become more aware about eating healthy and understand anorexia or bulimia is not a lifestyle.

If you have a loved one battling an eating disorder support them in seeking offline help, often such disorders are about many other issues including self-esteem, depression and control.

The good news is the public is beginning to have a greater distaste for uber-skinny models and during the first week of June celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton and retailer Urban Outfitters, learned via their ‘thinspiration' t-shirts to be careful about what your clothes promote. The outcry against the two pro-anorexia shirts with slogans "Nothing Tastes As Good As Skinny Feels" and "Eat Less" resulted in the cessation of the sale of both (http://perezhilton.com/2010-06-14-nothing-tastes-as-good-as-being-healthy-feels).

Full study, "e-Ana and e-Mia: A Content Analysis of Pro-Eating Disorder Websites": http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/AJPH.2009.172700v1

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