Should Pro-Anorexia Sites Be Criminalized? – Carrie Arnold 08.30.14

Italy’s Parliament recently proposed a bill that would criminalize pro-anorexia site authors with a $67,000 fine and up to a year in jail. But health experts say this is a bad idea.

The Daily Beast

Look for online information about eating disorders, and you’ll be bombarded with material from the National Institutes of Mental Health, advocacy organizations and non-profits, treatment centers, academic researchers, and eating disorder sufferers and their loved ones. The quality and accuracy of information on these sites can vary widely, as can the virtual support that some of them provide.

Among this information, you may come across scary-sounding stories about pro-anorexia sites. Some eating disorder groups say the sites promote anorexia as a “lifestyle choice” and contain tips to help sufferers lose weight and conceal their disorder from loved ones.

Instagram and Pinterest have already banned users from sharing “thinspiration” and images that glorify eating disorders, and now Italy’s Parliament has proposed going one step further. In June 2014, legislators proposed a bill that would criminalize any author of a pro-anorexia site with a fine of €10,000 to 50,000 ($13,000 to 67,000) and up to a year in jail. Advocates of the bill say it will help send a powerful message about the need to take eating disorders seriously.

But some researchers who study pro-anorexia sites, clinicians who treat the disorder, and users of the sites themselves believe this is a dangerous step.

“This will only force these groups further underground and further to the fringe, placing users even more at risk,” says Antonio Caselli, a sociologist at the National Center for Scientific Research and lead researcher on the ANAMIA project.

It’s all too easy to peg pro-anorexia sites as a shocking, recent phenomenon. Although they only came on Rebecka Peebles’ radar in the early 2000s, the adolescent eating disorder physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says they’re likely as old as the Internet itself.

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