December 23, 2007
Images of super-thin models and celebrities are not to blame for anorexia, new research has found.
The US study reported the eating disorder was hard-wired into some people's brains, making them susceptible to the illness whether or not they were exposed to images of skinny models. But Australian eating disorder experts warned that the fashion industry still had a lot to answer for when it came to eating disorders.
The research, led by Professor Walter Kaye at the University of Pittsburgh and published in the American Journal Of Psychiatry, found a predisposition to the disease could be inherited or caused by a fault in brain development at a young age.
Professor Kaye said anorexics behaved differently from the rest of the population. For example, brain activity showed differences in the reaction to winning or losing a computer game. Current and former anorexics showed a greater tendency to pay attention to detail and were overly concerned about making mistakes.
Ian Frampton, a psychologist at the University of Exeter in Britain, has also been working with anorexics using MRI technology and said Professor Kaye's findings support a growing belief that eating disorders are a biological condition caused by the brain being formed in a different way. Adolescent concern with body image is almost always a passing phase, he said.
"For anorexics, the desire not to eat and to be thin seems to be already in them and not something they can pick up by looking at a magazine," he said. "There were, after all, anorexics before super-thin models."
Models such as Britain's Kate Moss and Australia's Next Top Model winner Alice Burdeu and singer Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham have been blamed for fuelling an unhealthy obsession with thinness.
Jan Clarke, the founder of Melbourne's Bronte Centre at St Vincent's Health, agreed that images of skinny models did not cause anorexia but said they could worsen an existing predisposition. Models themselves were put at great risk of developing eating disorders because of the pressure to be very thin, she said.