Pro-Anorexia Websites Send Convoluted and Deadly Messages, Study Finds

A large review of "pro-ana," "pro-mia" websites finds they give deadly advice.

ByABC News
June 17, 2010, 3:46 PM

June 17, 2010— -- If ever there was an example of words that could kill, a "pro-ana" or "pro-mia" website could be a contender.

"Ana" stands for anorexia and just as the name implies, the "pro-ana" and "pro-mia" (for bulimia) websites encourage starving yourself and explain how to do it.

Johanna Kandel, 31, said she used to read memoirs of anorexics to feed her obsession with losing weight. Now nine years after her decade-long battle with anorexia, she sees the same inclinations in people visiting "pro-ana" sites.

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"It's making it a lot more accessible, not only to get tips ... they actually get supported by one another to become more engrossed in their eating disorder," said Kandel, who founded the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness.

"Although you feel cannot recover, you absolutely can and you deserve to," said Kandel.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Between 5 to 10 percent of individuals with anorexia will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Psychiatrists are so worried by pro-ana sites, they would rather not see news about them at all. But the sites are so pervasive that doctors feel they must visit and study them to treat patients.

A new study that looked at 180 active pro-ana and pro-mia sites found convoluted messages of alluring emotional support and deadly advice.

As expected, 83 percent of the 180 sites openly advised visitors on how to start or continue an eating disorder, according to the study published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

Obvious instructions, such as BMI calculators and calorie counters were common, but so was indirect encouragement. Eighty-five percent of the sites included "Thinspiration" sections meant to visually encourage eating disorders through pictures of bony models.

Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, estimated that 1 to 3 percent of all women will become anorexic at some point in their lives and 2 to 8 percent of all women will become bulimic at some point in their lives.