Funders wanted for eating disorders campaign

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the sector is well placed to tackle anorexia and obesity (Third Sector, 17 January). Besides prompting a flurry of correspondence, my article inspired a cartoon a couple of weeks later that made reference to some imagined form of junk food called a 'New Burger'.

Some agree with me that the voluntary sector is in a good position to take up some of the issues relating to eating disorders. Others say government has to play a part, and I don't disagree with them, despite feeling that government is less well placed to take the lead. Since I wrote my article, the debate has heated up as fashion weeks have been taking place around the world.

The Daily Telegraph has covered all this at great length and quoted Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorders charity Beat, who said: "One day, it will be: 'Look at this person, how skinny they are.' The next day it will be: 'Look at their thighs.'" One person to have been the victim of such treatment is the Duchess of York, who was pilloried for supposedly being overweight despite the fact that, at her largest, she was never even a size 16, the average for women in the UK.

Metro reported that some models were banned from appearing at New York Fashion Week because they were thought to be too thin. It quoted leading model Natalia Vodianova, who said she didn't know she was ill until she saw a doctor, despite the fact that her hair was falling out. Vodianova backed the view of the Council of Fashion Designers of America that educating models about eating disorders is better than policing them, but did not suggest that a combination of the two approaches might be even better.

The Daily Star quoted Professor Janet Treasure, director of the Eating Disorders Unit at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, who argued that people who use size-zero models should be taken to court on the grounds that girls can achieve that size only by starving themselves or taking drugs. This is something that will not go away.

The issue to wrestle with is this: if an alliance of organisations wants to ban size-zero models, there needs to be legislation or, at the very least, a voluntary code. Beat cannot act alone. Nor can the specialists within the medical charities.

Much of this is about very young women. The children's charities have to play a role, as do the sports and fashion charities and those organisations concerned with healthy eating. Of course, as Fiona Hamilton-Fairley wrote in her letter to this magazine (Third Sector, 31 January), government needs to be involved. But government needs partners. Are there a couple of major funders out there who will support a bigger campaign? And will those who work with young people get closely involved, along with the specialist eating disorder organisations? Beautiful young women are risking their lives. Will those organisations that have the combined expertise to help them act?

• Julia Neuberger is a Liberal Democrat peer and chair of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering.

And while we're on the subject ...

• Beat is the new name of the Eating Disorders Association. The charity assumed its new identity on 7 February. Explaining the rebrand, Beat chief executive Susan Ringwood said: "We want to focus on a message of hope - you can beat eating disorders. And we hope to send out a loud and clear message that there is help available."

• In September, the EDA and culture secretary Tessa Jowell called for London Fashion Week to copy its Madrid counterpart and ban 'size-zero' models. Whereas Jowell urged industry self-regulation, the Madrid ban came about after government intervention and was imposed by the city council, a Madrid Fashion Week sponsor.

• London Fashion Week also receives public subsidies. Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Dee Doocey urged mayor Ken Livingstone to end this arrangement. Doocey said: "The mayor has a statutory duty to protect the health of Londoners. He must take the lead and withdraw his funding of London Fashion Week."

• Psychiatrist and eating disorder specialist Professor Janet Treasure called for fashion bosses who use underweight models to be prosecuted under health and safety regulations. She also attacked Asda for selling size-zero clothes, accusing the retailer of exploiting young women's obsession with appearing thin.

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