Dr Helen Webberley - MBChB, MRCGP, MFSRH, is a GP in Wales and she also specialises in online medicine for one of the UK's leading pharmacies, www.oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk.
For years we have been criticising the fashion world for using super-skinny models, fearing for the negative body image this portrays to children and young women, while on the other side there are growing health concerns about the nation's trend towards obesity. So which way should we turn?
Parents and guardians all fear the effects of promoting size zero. All mothers worry about the nutrition of their children, and for those families where anorexia nervosa has caused immense pain and suffering, this is even more acute.
The tragic death last month of Eloise Parry from diet pills containing the banned industrial chemical DNP (dinitrophenol) has once again highlighted concerns of the skinny superstar image.
However, as leading model agencies begin to embrace new trends in fashion and body happiness, is there a danger that we are going to make the current trend towards obesity even more acceptable? The fashion industry wants models who look like the average British woman, but is the average British woman becoming unhealthily overweight?
For those at the extremes of malnutrition who suffer from anorexia and bulimia, two conditions which are notoriously very difficult to treat, it is terribly worrying. However, in reality these are relatively uncommon compared with the current levels of childhood and adult obesity.
The average prevalence rates for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa among young females are 0.3 and 1%, respectively. Whereas 41% of men and 33% of women are deemed to be obese in the UK (Public Health England 2013).
Obesity causes health problems in its own right, and also causes diabetes which has a terrible effect on the heart, kidneys, brains and circulation. I have a large number of patients who hobble in on bad knees and hips, wondering why they have 'wear and tear arthritis' at such a young age.
In my work as an Internet-based doctor, I treat the patients who are too busy or embarrassed to see their own GP. A surprising number of patients ask for private and confidential help with prescription weightloss medication. Obesity is a true epidemic and yet we are all too scared to say out loud: the nation is getting very fat.
Fear of anorexia in our children is rife, perhaps because it is such an emotive and terrible condition. But do we worry just as much about them becoming chubby and its long-term effects? In the days where single portion bags of crisps are family packs and small bags of chocolates are no longer a once-a-week treat, just how far out of control have we got with portion size?
As a doctor, I see it as getting the balance right. I agree that size zero fashion models are medically unhealthy, but replacing that image with models who are over the recommended healthy BMI, is not the solution. We have a serious health epidemic on our hands, and is it one that is a far greater risk to our health than that posed to us by the thin image.
. Size zero is neither good for health nor for the education and attitude towards food of our youngsters and the trend towards embracing a body image which is more representative of real women is to be welcomed. However, the focus should be on promoting a healthy weight, rather than encouraging the barometer to swing too far in the opposite direction towards a 'norm' which rather than encouraging positive body image just goes towards making our obesity epidemic more acceptable.
tagged in Diet