To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Pro‐eating disorder websites: facts, fictions and fixes

Helen Sharpe (Section of Eating Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK)
Peter Musiat (Section of Eating Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK)
Olivia Knapton (Department of Education and Professional Studies, King's College London, London, UK)
Ulrike Schmidt (Section of Eating Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 15 March 2011

Abstract

Purpose

Pro‐eating disorder websites are online communities of individuals who do not consider eating disorders to be serious mental illnesses requiring treatment. People visit these websites to meet other like‐minded individuals, to share tips and tricks on how to lose weight and how to otherwise maintain the symptomatology of the disorder. This paper aims to review what is actually known about the risks associated with visiting these websites and provides recommendations for dealing with pro‐eating disorder material.

Design/methodology/approach

Relevant peer‐reviewed papers were located by means of searching three online journal databases (SCOPUS, PubMed, Web of Knowledge), and through carrying out reference checking. Key words for the search were: pro‐anorexia, pro‐ana, pro‐bulimia, pro‐mia and pro‐eating disorders.

Findings

Pro eating disorder websites are common and visited by a significant proportion of patients with eating disorders and non‐patients. The sites may be perceived beneficial, as they provide support and a sense of community. Although there is evidence for the harmfulness of pro‐eating disorder content on the internet, there is no clear indication that such sites promote the development or maintenance of eating disorders. Therefore, banning pro eating disorder websites seems inappropriate and unpractical, but measures for web‐hosting companies should be in place allowing them to remove such content. Instead, bodies creating alternative websites for young people should be supported. Clinicians and parents should be made aware of the existence of pro eating disorder websites and how to deal with them.

Originality/value

This paper provides an overview of the research in this field and discusses possible ways in which health professionals and the general public may respond to the existence of these web sites.

Keywords

Citation

Sharpe, H., Musiat, P., Knapton, O. and Schmidt, U. (2011), "Pro‐eating disorder websites: facts, fictions and fixes", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 34-44. https://doi.org/10.1108/17465721111134538

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited