General News Technology — 23 August 2012

So-called pro-ana bloggers – members of the online community for people with anorexia and other eating disorders – should not necessarily be condemned, according to US researchers.

The communications experts argue controversially there may be benefits in pro-ana bloggers providing support to each other, and they say community “moral panic” about such activities may be unwarranted.

The researchers said their study, which involved interviewing 33 bloggers from Europe, North America and New Zealand, is the first to actually ask the bloggers about their motivations instead of merely conducting website content analyses.

The study participants emphasised the social support they received online, how it helped them cope with the stigma attached to their disorder, and the catharsis of writing.

“I wanted to have a voice that I didn’t have to censor for fear of upsetting people I knew or having them judge me,” a 23-year-old woman with an eating disorder told interviewers.

The researchers said health professionals had condemned pro-ana bloggers for sharing tips on weight loss and how to conceal their disorder, yet many of the bloggers they interviewed – aged 15–33 years – actively tried to warn their audience about the blog content and blocked requests from so-called “wannarexics”, young teens who want to emulate the lifestyle.

Internet service providers had also shut down pro-anorexia websites and blog host Tumblr announced earlier this year that blogs promoting self-harm would be banned, the researchers noted.

The authors criticised attempts to censor an outlet for people trying to “cope with a mental illness that has no effective treatment” although they said blogging about anorexia appeared to both alleviate and trigger anxiety.

“Our results suggest… that the moral panic about the websites might not be appropriate,” they concluded.

Meanwhile, Mental Health Minister Mark Butler today launched a Mindframe quick reference guide for the media on eating disorders, available at www.mindframe-media.info

As first appeared on Medical Observer

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