LONDON, England -- Models younger than 16 should be banned from catwalks during London Fashion Week over fears that some girls are developing eating disorders because of their work in the industry, fashion experts have recommended.
British model Lily Cole, now 19, shot to fame in 2003 at the age of 15. She attracted attention for her thin build.
The new rules were proposed after a panel of experts in the UK began investigating health problems among models in the wake of the size zero debate. However, the guidelines fall short of banning stick-thin girls from the catwalk.
The independent Model Health Inquiry said Wednesday in its interim report into models' working conditions that a greater level of protection for 17- and 18 year-olds was needed, including chaperoning at shows.
The panel said models under 16 were particularly vulnerable. It mentioned the risk of children being sexually exploited when they were made to represent adult women.
It also called for a rigorous scientific study into the prevalence of eating disorders among fashion models and outlined a positive case for setting up a union for the modeling profession.
During the inquiry, panel members heard from many models who described the fear of not being selected for work because they were not thin enough, according to Panel chairwoman Baroness Kingsmill, the UK's Press Associated reported.
"The panel has set out an approach designed to protect vulnerable young workers in an industry which appears to be glamorous but which has hidden risks and that for all practical purposes is largely unregulated and unmonitored," Kingsmill said.
"During our investigations members of the panel became increasingly concerned as we heard more details about the working conditions faced by many models and the vulnerability of young women working in an unregulated and scarcely-monitored work environment.
"We have been given startling medical evidence about the prevalence and impact of eating disorders in certain high-risk industries. Working conditions for models are far from transparent and there is a worrying lack of information about the overall profession."
The panel ruled out weighing all models because it had been ineffective in other countries, PA said. However, they want more information on whether a minimum body mass index (BMI) requirement of 18.5 should be introduced for London Fashion Week models. This approach has already been adopted by Madrid fashion week.
It called on the British Fashion Council which owns and runs London Fashion Week to develop new best-practice standards for model agencies. After gathering responses to its interim report, the inquiry will publish its final report in September, along with a final set of recommendations, ahead of the next London Fashion Week.
Agencies should arrange medical checks including screening for eating disorders when they first put a model on their books. This should be followed by annual check-ups, the panel said.
The College of Psychiatrists told the panel that models with a BMI of below 18.5 -- which means they are underweight -- should be banned from the catwalk, but other respondents said BMI did not help identify the eating disorder bulimia nervosa. Last year, models with a BMI of less than 18 were banned from taking part in Madrid Fashion Week. Doctors use the index, which is a ratio of height to weight, to calculate the healthy size for an individual.
Recent controversy over skinny models was sparked in August 2006, when Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, died of heart failure after not eating for several days.
Her death was followed in November by that of Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model who suffered from anorexia. The debate about the U.S. size zero was caused by celebrities dieting down to the super-thin size. E-mail to a friend
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