April 15, 2008 / 12:20 PM / in 10 years

France to crack down on "pro-anorexia" Web sites

PARIS (Reuters) - French politicians called on Tuesday for stiff penalties of up to three years jail and heavy fines against “pro-anorexia” Web sites and publications that encourage girls and young women to starve themselves.

“Giving young girls advice about how to lie to their doctors, telling them what kinds of food are easiest to vomit, encouraging them to torture themselves whenever they take any kind of food is not part of liberty of expression,” Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said in a speech in parliament.

“The messages sent out here are messages of death. Our country should have the means of finding and prosecuting those behind sites like this,” she said, during a debate on a proposed law against incitement to anorexia.

Aimed mainly at so-called “pro-ana” blogs and Web sites where anorexics share experiences and tips on subjects like appetite suppressants, the law would impose penalties of two years plus a fine of 30,000 euros ($47,450) for “incitement to excessive thinness by publicising of any kind.”

The penalties would rise to three years in jail plus 45,000 euros fine in cases where a death was caused by anorexia.

The bill was adopted by the lower house of parliament on Tuesday and must go before the Senate before it becomes law.

Health experts say eating disorders among adolescent girls and young women are fuelled by insidious pressure from advertising, films, television and other media to match unattainable levels of physical attractiveness.

But they say many also seek to exercise a perverse form of control over their lives by severely limiting their weight and the amount they eat, a tendency reflected in many of the comments on “pro-ana” Web sites.

In France, the health ministry estimates there are around 30,000-40,000 anorexics, 90 percent of them young women and there has been increasing debate over the condition since Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died from anorexia in 2006.

The fashion industry, at the centre of the controversy because of the ubiquity of slender models on catwalks and magazine covers has taken steps to exclude unhealthily thin models from a number of major shows.

French authorities agreed a voluntary charter with the industry last year but did not impose a compulsory ban on underweight models.

Reporting by James Mackenzie

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