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6 March 2008 PR 08/25

Loughborough academic puts spotlight on pro-anorexia in cyberspace

In the same month British MPs have called for social networking websites to do more to monitor pro-anorexia groups a Loughborough University academic has published a book that investigates the subject in depth.

The Medicalization of Cyberspace, co-written by Loughborough’s Dr Emma Rich and Andy Miah of the University of the West of Scotland, is the first ever book to explore the relationship between digital culture and medical sociology and investigate the culture of pro-anorexia groups on the internet.

The authors have researched the online pro-ana movement in depth and have criticised recent calls to remove such groups from the internet, explaining such moves would isolate sufferers further.

“While we have no wish to promote eating disorders, we must be cautious not to respond to pro-ana sites as wholly dangerous,” said Dr Rich. “Calling for the removal of pro-ana spaces from Facebook will only obscure such communities even further.

“As things stand, anyone can join these groups and the identities of users is much clearer than it is for other web spaces. If medics are concerned about the users within these communities, they stand a much better chance of offering support than they will by these groups existing in a lower profile webspace.”

Dr Rich adds that the assumption such sites encourage eating disorders is misled and that many sites appear in response to a unfulfilled need for support.

“It would be naïve to assume that people, especially young women, can be swayed into anorexia through social networking sites like Facebook,” she said. “All this does is further pathologise those experiencing the condition. If nothing else, these sites emerge from the desperate need for understanding and social support that these people seek.”

-ENDS-

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Notes for editors:

  1. The Medicalization of Cyberspace looks at the complex interactions between health, medicalization, cyberculture, the body and identity and examines how technology is redefining expectations of and relationships with medical culture. For information log onto http://www.medicalizationofcyberspace.wordpress.com
  2. Dr Emma Rich is Lecturer in Gender, Identity and Health at Loughborough University. She has published in refereed journals and books in sociology of health, education and feminist studies. She is co-author of the forthcoming book ‘fat fabrications: obesity education and eating disorders’.
  3. Dr. Andy Miah is Reader in New Media & Bioethics in the School of Media, Language and Music at the University of the West of Scotland and a Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, USA. He has a BA in Leisure Studies, a Master Degree in Medical Law and a PhD in bioethics.
  4. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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