Models under 16 years old will be banned from London Fashion Week catwalks under new rules proposed Wednesday.
A panel of experts set up to investigate health problems among models also called for greater protection for 17 and 18 year-olds, including chaperoning at shows.
But the independent Model Health Inquiry, set up after an outcry over the rise of the size zero model, ruled out weighing all models because it had been ineffective in other countries.
In the inquiry's interim report Wednesday, panel members called instead for a rigorous scientific study into the prevalence of eating disorders among fashion models. They had heard evidence that around 40 percent of models could have anorexia, bulimia or other food-related problems.
Baroness Kingsmill, the panel chairwoman, said that the inquiry heard from many models who described the fear of not being selected for work because they were not thin enough.
“We have been given startling medical evidence about the prevalence and impact of eating disorders in certain high-risk industries," said Baroness Kingsmill.
The inquiry said it wanted more information on whether a minimum body mass index (BMI) requirement of 18.5 should be introduced for London Fashion Week models. This approach has already been adopted by Madrid fashion week.
The College of Psychiatrists told the panel that models with a BMI of below 18.5 — which means they are underweight — should be banned from the catwalk.
But other respondents warned that simply recording a model's BMI did not help to identify the eating disorder bulimia nervosa, whose sufferers alternately binge and vomit to control their mood.
The panel called on the British Fashion Council, which owns and runs London Fashion Week, to develop new best-practice standards for model agencies.
Agencies should arrange medical checks, including screening for eating disorders, when they first put a model on their books. This should be followed by annual check-ups, the panel said.
It called for a detailed investigation into models' working conditions, and outlined a positive case for setting up a union for the modeling profession.
It warned that models under 16 were particularly vulnerable in a profession that might ask them to model revealing clothes in sexualized poses. There was a risk of children being sexually exploited when they were made to represent adult women, the report said.
Launching the interim report Wednesday, Baroness Kingsmill said: “The panel has set out an approach designed to protect vulnerable young workers in an industry which appears to be glamorous but which has hidden risks and that for all practical purposes is largely unregulated and unmonitored.
“During our investigations members of the panel became increasingly concerned as we heard more details about the working conditions faced by many models, and the vulnerability of young women working in an unregulated and scarcely-monitored work environment.
“There was also strongly expressed concern that it is profoundly inappropriate that girls under 16 under the age of consent should be portrayed as adult women. The risk of sexualizing these children was high, and designers could risk charges of sexual exploitation."
The inquiry is requesting responses to its interim report. Its final report, along with a final set of recommendations is due to be published in September, when the next London Fashion Week takes place.
The probe was launched by the British Fashion Council seven weeks ago after controversy over the number of models aspiring to the U.S. size zero — the equivalent of a UK size four. The trend appears to have begun with celebrities such as Nicole Richie dieting down to the super-thin size.
In August 2006, Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, 22, died of heart failure after not eating for several days. Her death was followed in November by that of Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model who suffered from anorexia.
Madrid Fashion Week last year banned models with a BMI of less than 18 from taking part. Doctors use the index, which is a ratio of height to weight, to calculate the healthy size for an individual.
During its last London Fashion Week in February, the British Fashion Council asked designers to use only “healthy looking” models aged 16 and over. But it fell short of banning stick-thin girls from the catwalk.
The members of the Model Health Inquiry panel include the fashion designers Betty Jackson and Giles Deacon, and Erin O’Connor, a model.
Also on board are Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Model Management; Charlotte Clark, the co-director of INCA Productions; Paula Reed, the style director of Grazia magazine; Professor Wendy Dagworthy, the head of the School of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal College of Art; and Dr Adrienne Key, a consultant psychiatrist and eating disorders expert.