ALBANY, N.Y. – Fearing that young models strutting down the runways in New York City are too skinny, a state lawmaker proposes that weight standards be established for the fashion and entertainment industries.
Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera wants to create a state advisory board to recommend standards and guidelines for the employment of child performers and models under the age of 18 to prevent eating disorders.
"New York City is one of the world's leaders in fashion and entertainment and we don't want to do anything to harm those industries," Rivera said. "At the same time we need responsible protections in place, especially for younger workers."
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The world of high fashion and modeling has long been targeted by critics who say it encourages women and girls to emulate waif-like models. The November death of a 21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, who weighed 88 pounds when she died, heightened criticism.
Rivera pointed to a 2000 British Medical Association study that found a link between the images of the "abnormally thin" models found in fashion magazines and an increase in disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
"Eating disorders come from a combination of environment and genetic makeup," said Dr. Sharon Alger-Mayer, an associate professor of medicine at Albany Medical Center. "Being exposed to an environment with a lot of emphasis on thinness can put someone with a predisposition to eating disorders in a very high-risk situation."
The proposed board would include health experts, industry representatives, models and entertainers. It would report to the state Labor Department on the need for employment restrictions, weight or body mass index requirements, medical screenings, protocols to refer people for treatment and educational programs on eating disorders.
While Rivera's bill does not yet have a sponsor in the Republican-controlled state Senate, the chamber's majority leader, Joseph Bruno, has supported numerous eating disorder related measures in the past.
Bruno last year divulged that his granddaughter suffers from anorexia.
Earlier this month, the Council of Fashion Designers of America released a list of recommendations as part of a new health initiative to prevent anorexia, bulimia and smoking.
The guidelines, which are not binding for the industry, include keeping models under 16 off the runway, educating those in the industry about eating disorders and prohibiting smoking and alcohol during fashion shows.
The voluntary guidelines, however, were criticized by some because they were voluntary and did not include any mention of using body mass index, a tool used to determine if people are carrying a healthy amount of weight for their height.
"This is long overdue," said Lynn Grefe, chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association. "I consider this a workplace issue. You have this industry that has really not been looking out for the health and welfare for those that are in it."
In September, Madrid Fashion Week banned models with a body mass index of less than 18. The standard accepted by the World Health Organization is that anyone with an index under 18.5 is underweight.
In a December deal with the Italian fashion industry, designers there agreed not to hire models younger than 16, and to require all models to submit medical proof that they do not suffer from eating disorders.