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news: microsoft closes pro-anorexia websites

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Title/Topic: Microsoft Closes Pro-Anorexia Websites
Posted On: 11/21/2007
Madrid, Spain, Nov 21 2007 (Times Online) – Microsoft has abruptly closed down four “pro-anorexia” websites in Spain following a complaint that they were endangering the lives of teenage girls.

The websites, which offer tips such as “take up smoking” and “if your stomach rumbles, hit it”, were accused of teaching teenagers how to starve themselves.

Internet companies usually wait for a court order before closing any sites that they host. But Microsoft acted swiftly after complaints from a Catalan watchdog that several blogs on its Live Spaces community glorified starvation as a lifestyle choice.

Such sites worship “thinspirational” celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and refer to “my friend Ana” instead of anorexia to avoid discovery by parents.

Jaime Esteban, an official from Microsoft’s Spanish division, agreed that the blogs “infringe all the rules on content created by users and visible on our sites”.

He thanked the internet watchdog, IQUA, for alerting it to the sites and invited it to get in contact if it found “any other objectionable content”.

Regional Spanish governments have taken the lead in fighting eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. In January, Madrid’s regional government closed down “The Great Ana Competition”, a website that awarded a diploma to the girl who ate the fewest calories in a two-week period.

They filed a suit against the promoters of the competition, which used a scoring system that doctors said “would cause malnutrition in normal women”.

The site awarded a single point for those who ate less than XXX calories* a day, progressively increasing the points for those who ate even less. Competitors who managed to consume less than XXX calories* in a day were given nine points. A 24-hour fast earned contestants the maximum ten points.

Officials have condemned such websites as a “serious health risk for young people”, particularly those already suffering from an eating disorder. They said that girls with anorexia or bulimia could die if they followed the advice of such websites.

The Catalan authorities have heaped praise on Microsoft’s swift action. Santiago Ramentol, the president of IQUA, said that he was “very satisfied with the decision of the company, given the lack of worldwide laws regulating the use (of the internet)”.

He said that other internet hosts they had approached in similar cases, such as Google or Hispavista, had demanded court judgments before acting.

Health experts in Britain are increasingly worried about the growth of websites that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than a potentially fatal disease. Britain’s Eating Disorders Association says that there were more than 500 pro-anorexia sites on the internet, with names such as “Salvation through Starvation” and “Feast or Famine”.

Steve Bloomfield, of the EDA, said this year that the sites were often set up by young people with “no idea of the potentially deadly consequences of developing anorexia nervosa”. He added that they could be persuading sufferers to refuse treatment. “About one in five people who don’t get appropriate treatment die prematurely, so [these websites] are literally killing people,” Mr Bloomfield said.

Last year, the Madrid Government also banned models it deemed excessively thin from participating in the capital’s Cibeles fashion show, saying that they encouraged anorexia among girls. Since Madrid banned models with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18 last year, other fashion capitals have come under pressure to follow suit.

The fashion industry in Italy signed a manifesto with the Government, vowing to take a harder line on skinny models. All models will now have to produce health certificates declaring that they do not suffer from an eating disorder. They must not have a BMI below 18.5**.

Spain’s central Government has also signed a deal with the country’s fashion industry to remove unnaturally thin dummy’s from shop windows, fearing that they too promote an impossible ideal for young women to aspire to and encourage eating disorders.

The fashion industry came under heavy criticism last year for promoting an unhealthy body ideal after two models suffering from anorexia died in Brazil and Uruguay.


* Numbers removed by Pale Reflections

** We should point that out that a BMI of 18.5 is right on the edge of being medically underweight, something that the fashion industry should NOT be condoning

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