Dangerously thin models will not be banned from catwalks at London Fashion Week, despite an appeal from the British Fashion Council to use "healthy" models.
Last September, Spain introduced rules banning models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) under 18 appearing on the catwalk in Madrid. This followed the death of the Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, who died of heart failure after eating nothing for days.
Two months later, the death of the Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston was linked to her battle with anorexia nervosa.
Milan followed Madrid's lead while Paris described it as a "non-issue", but despite pressure from politicians and physicians, ultra-thin models will not be prohibited from appearing during London Fashion Week. Instead, a task force will draw up a voluntary code of practice to promote the use of models larger than the American size zero (British size four), who are aged 16 or over.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, said that she welcomed the move to promote the use of healthy models. "Too many teenage girls try to starve themselves into unhealthy thinness, at great risk to their health," she said.
"The fashion industry is hugely powerful in shaping the attitudes of young women and their feelings about themselves. Teenage girls aspire to look like their role models. If their role models are healthy it will help inspire girls to be the same."
The British Fashion Council said: "We believe regulation is neither desirable nor enforceable. What will make a difference is the commitment of the fashion industry to change attitudes through behaviour and education."
Doctors and members of the fashion industry will join the taskforce to find a workable solution to the concerns about the use of thin models. Sponsors of London Fashion Week, including Topshop, Superdrug and MAC, have agreed to support the code. Stuart Rose, chairman of the fashion council and chief executive of Marks & Spencer, said: "I think this code is a step in the right direction. The health of the model is paramount and the image that fashion projects is something that needs to be addressed."
Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, said that although the fashion and celebrity industry does not cause people to have an eating disorder, "it is part of the context". She said that none of 100 young people with eating disorders recently questioned by the association said they were trying to emulate thin models or celebrities. "But once they were unwell, it became very hard for them to get better once they were surrounded by these images," said Ms Ringwood.
The World Health Organisation uses the BMI - a ratio of height to weight - to calculate the healthy size for an individual. A BMI under 18.5 is regarded as underweight, while a BMI between between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.