The size-zero obsession of young women brought on by media projection of 'ultra thin' models and actresses is forcing women into erratic eating patterns, says a specialist on eating disorders.
In an editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Janet Treasure, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said animal studies showed that starvation followed by bingeing on highly palatable foods, such as burgers or chocolate, could alter the way that the brain responds to food.
Professor Treasure said that the pattern known as "binge priming" caused by irregular dieting and/or near -starvation regimen, interspersed with intermittent consumption of snacks and other highly palatable food, "might lead to permanent changes in the reward system."
If young people resort to this kind of faulty eating habits, especially in their adolescence, when the brain was more susceptible to rewards, it might lead to persistent eating problems, Prof Treasure said. She added that people exposed to binge priming might also be more prone to substance misuse.
The editorial, co-written with Elizabeth Wack and Marion Roberts, also of the institute, said, "Body-related self-esteem is particularly relevant to young models. They are frequently judged on their shape and weight, and critical comments, often under the guise of professional development, will increase their risk of developing eating disorders."
"Beyond the catwalk there are wider public health implications," they wrote. "This might explain the exponential increase in eating disorders seen in women born in the last half of the 20th century and, in part, also contributes to the increase in obesity."
Young women constantly exposed to media images of zero thin women felt a body -related low esteem driving them to erratic eating habits.
Prof Treasure cited a US study, which found that among 9 to 11-year-olds, 30 to 40 per cent had eating disorder traits, such as being obsessed by their body image. An Australian study found a threefold increase in all eating disorders between 1995 and 2005, "but some of that increase was due to better identification of sufferers."
Prof Treasure highlighted some serious repercussions of very low body weight. Being underweight disrupts growth and brain development and leads to fertility problems and brittle bone disease. Eating disorders are often fatal as in the case of Ana Carolina Reston, the Brazilian model who died of anorexia in 2006. She was two and a half stone below the recommended minimum weight for her height.
The editorial which called for a greater focus on reducing obsessive dieting and poor eating habits among young people said, "Although it may take time to change the 'thin ideal', we should remember what has been achieved with cigarette smoking."
The following are some relevant information on sizes and BMI from NHS and Times database: Size 0
US measure equivalent to the British size 4, indicating a 32in bust, 22in waist and 33-34in hips 22-
waist size in inches of an average eight-year-old in Britain 18.4
body mass index (weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared). Below this BMI you are underweight for your height according to the WHO 30
BMI over which you are classified as obese