News / Health

    Banning Too-Thin Models: Right Move, Wrong Approach, Say Experts

    FILE- Models wear new creations for a fashion show in Paris, March 2015.
    FILE- Models wear new creations for a fashion show in Paris, March 2015.
    Alex Villarreal

    French lawmakers' move to ban ultra-skinny models is the right mission, but the wrong approach, say advocates in the fight against eating disorders.

    France's lower house of parliament Friday passed a measure that would forbid anyone with a body mass index (BMI)  below a certain level to work as a model.

    "In the bill, I suggest that from now on, a model must go through a medical visit before she is hired, which would evaluate the body mass index, which is calculated by dividing the weight over the height squared," said Olivier Veran, the Socialist parliament member behind the legislation.

    "I suggest that the medical certificate for work ability cannot be delivered to people who are undernourished and who, therefore, are putting their life and health in danger," he said.

    Fashion houses and modeling agencies could face a fine up to $85,000 and six months in prison if they defy the ban and continue to employ models deemed too thin.

    It is unclear what BMI would become the French standard. A similar measure regulating models in Israel mandates a BMI of 18.5 or higher. In 2006, Madrid Fashion Week organizers banned any model with a BMI below 18, after a 22-year-old model from Uruguay died of a heart attack attributed to anorexia.

    More than a number

    But Claire Mysko, Director of Programs for the U.S. National Eating Disorders Association, told VOA BMI is not an accurate measure of health.

    "Just because someone is at a very low BMI doesn't mean that they have an eating disorder, and just because someone's in the normal range or even in the high range of BMI doesn't mean that they don't have an eating disorder either," she said.

    Mysko said the intentions behind such legislation are "good," but what is really needed is a holistic screening process that includes an assessment of attitudes and behaviors toward food, weight and body image.

    She said the National Eating Disorders Association wants to see models screened for eating disorders and is also pushing for tests to be carried out in schools.

    "I think it's really important that we take eating disorders seriously," she said. "I am happy to see worldwide that there is a shift in that direction. I think we just need to be very careful and look at the effectiveness of these solutions."

    It is a position echoed by Katrina Mason, Policy Director at the Washington, D.C.-based Eating Disorders Coalition, which advocates recognizing eating disorders as a public health priority.

    "We know that there are a lot of different factors, and just measuring BMI isn't necessarily a good factor in determining whether someone is or is not having a disordered eating lifestyle," she said. "I think we would say that there are other factors that should potentially be taken into account."

    A health initiative the Council of Fashion Designers of America formed in 2007 to address concerns about underweight models says it also does not recommend using BMI to determine whether a model should be allowed to work.

    "Eating disorders are emotional disorders that have psychological, behavioral, social, and physical manifestations of which body weight is only one," reads a mission statement on the committee's web page.

    Public health effects

    It is not just the health of the models that is at stake. The move to put limits on the fashion industry is part of a broader crackdown in France, where up to 40,000 people are estimated to be suffering from anorexia.

    Earlier this week, French lawmakers approved a measure targeting websites that promote excessive thinness. Another amendment would require publications to let readers and viewers know when photos have been retouched.

    Mason says models' appearances and false advertising have "a profound effect on body image dissatisfaction" with research showing media exposure can be a contributing factor to disordered eating.

    Dr. Tania Heller, Medical Director of the Washington Center for Eating Disorders and Adolescent Obesity, said there has been much concern that the fashion industry has promoted "unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors."

    "Young women, and sometimes men, may try to emulate these dangerously-thin models and view them as an ideal--one which is for the most part unrealistic," she wrote in an email to VOA.

    The National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA, says 90 to 95 percent of anorexia sufferers are girls and women. In the U.S., an estimated 30 million people -- 20 million of them women -- will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

    Dr. Heller said the move to put legislation in place that may prevent the promotion of unhealthy ideals is a step in the right direction.

    But NEDA programs director Mysko said screening is only one part of addressing the epidemic. "We want to make sure that once we identify that there is a problem, that people actually have good places to go to get specialized treatment."








    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    by: Dave from: Savannah
    April 06, 2015 12:53 PM
    It's pretty easy to point fingers and blame others for why many people try to achieve an unrealistic body type. However, implementing permits, limits and laws that make business practice harder when there are other, more pressing problems such as obesity, is questionable at best. Instead of forcing companies by law, we should focus on creating a societal shift (many companies ARE changing) that persuades companies to stop touching up images and hiring super-skinny models.

    by: Pig from: Animal Farm
    April 06, 2015 12:42 PM
    Great, one more step in normalizing obesity. We get all up in arms over Bulimia and Anorexia, but not a word of shame to those who are clearly obese. They are 2 side of the same coin.

    by: Tommy Moore from: Hollywood CA
    April 06, 2015 11:55 AM
    Its illegal to force some one to get sick or to promote a false impression that to be a perfect woman you have to look or have a specific type of body. The only reason those types of models are accepted in the catwalk is because fashion designers hate women bodies, have you notice the difference between those models and the sport magazine models?

    by: John from: Smith
    April 06, 2015 4:03 AM
    1wow, so now it’s illegal to be slim, slender, thin? Pick your priorities, PLEASE. Sure, anorexia is problem. May I please point out an even BIGGER problem? It’s called obesity. For every anorexic that dies, a thousand obese people die. Anti skinny law(s) has all the flavor of, people that want double cheese burgers and super big gulps.

    by: james from: L.A.
    April 05, 2015 8:33 AM
    "What all 'experts' agreed on, however, is that yet another group of mentally ill people needed to be further stigmatized, shamed, and publicly banned from employment".

    by: Sam Norkeen from: New York City
    April 03, 2015 7:36 PM
    Banning over-thin women from modeling is a wonderful idea – it helps both the models and the public. However, the BMI is the wrong tool – it is too crude to be useful. For example, Asian women tend to have smaller frames than other races, so an Asian Model could be very fit and healthy with a BMI of 17.0. On the other hand, a very tall model (of any race) could have a BMI above 20 and still be anorexic; tall people have high BMIs regardless of body fat. The BMI is both obsolete and useless.

    I'm a mathematician and I've studied obesity for years. In my opinion, if you want to find your ideal weight, you should use better tests than the BMI. The waist to hips ratio and the waist to height ratio each give useful information, and gives a comprehensive, scientific analysis of weight and fitness. These tools are all superior.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora