Anorexics, bulimics learn methods online
By Michelle Nichols
Young sufferers of anorexia and bulimia who try to hide their eating
problems from their parents and doctors are turning to a growing
number of Internet chat rooms dedicated to enabling their illness.
A pilot study released on Monday of U.S. eating disorder patients aged
between 10 and 22 showed that up to a third learn new weight loss or
purging methods from Web sites that promote eating disorders by
enabling users to share tips, such as what drugs induce vomiting and
what Internet sites sell them.
But the study -- published in the American Academy of Pediatrics'
journal Pediatrics -- found that eating disorder sufferers were also
learning new high-risk ways to lose weight from each other on Web
sites aimed at helping them recover.
The survey by researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine
and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford showed a third of
patients also visited pro-recovery sites and half of them learned new
weight loss and purging methods.
"Parents and physicians need to realize that the Internet is
essentially an unmonitored media forum," said Rebecka Peebles, Packard
Children's adolescent medicine and eating disorder specialist and an
author of the study.
"It's just not possible to completely control the content of an
interactive site," she said in a telephone interview.
A wave of pro-eating disorder sites showed up on the Internet between
2001 and 2003, prompting operators of several Internet hosts to try to
remove such sites. But the study showed many pro-anorexia and bulimia
sites remain accessible, with most patients finding them and
pro-recovery sites through chance searches.
"I feel so sick eating as much as 800 calories," a teen-age girl, who
called herself "berlinium," wrote in a pro-anorexia chat room on
"And then for some reason now when I try to purge, I can't get
anything up. I mean I am literally shoving my fingers past my tonsils,
but nothing," she said, adding that she had just bought a drug off the
Internet to induce vomiting.
Eating disorders returned to the global spotlight recently when two
models suffering anorexia died in Brazil and Uruguay.
The fashion industry has long been blamed for encouraging anorexia and
bulimia among teen-agers with its use of excessively thin catwalk
models. In September, the city of Madrid banned models below a certain
weight from its fashion week shows.
The U.S. study was based on an anonymous survey of 76 patients who
were diagnosed with an eating disorder at Packard Children's Hospital
between 1997 and 2004, as well as 106 parents of patients.
While half of the parents surveyed said they were aware of Web sites
promoting eating disorders, only 28 percent had ever discussed these
sites with their child and only 20 percent said they placed limits on
their child's Internet use.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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