'Socially transmitted' anorexia: Peer pressure drives eating disorders, study finds

Anorexia is a socially transmitted disorder and appears to be more prevalent in countries such as France where women are thinner than average, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The "economic analysis" of anorexia, using a sample of nearly 3,000 young women across Europe, concluded that peer group pressure is one of the most significant influences on self-image and the development of anorexia and appeared just as the autumn/winter season is winding up with Paris Fashion Week.

The research by LSE economist Dr Joan Costa-Font and Professor Mireia Jofre-Bonet of City University, showed that it is becoming increasingly apparent that standards of physical appearance are important and powerful motivators of human behavior, especially regarding health and food.

"We found evidence that social pressure, through peer shape, is a determinant in explaining anorexia nervosa and a distorted self-perception of one's own body," Costa-Font said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The LSE researchers analyzed the influence of peer pressure on 2,871 women between the ages of 15 and 34 who reported their weight, height, eating habits, age, gender, marital status, educational level, professional category, political attitudes and most crucially their own perception of their body image.

"The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance or the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health," Costa-Font said.

The researchers determined which women in the study were anorexic by calculating their body mass index (BMI), which is defined as the individual's body weight divided by the square of his or her height. Women with a BMI of less than 17.5 were classified as anorexic.

The findings endorsed government intervention to compensate for social pressure on women, regulating against the use of underweight models in the fashion industry and in women's magazines, for example, it said.

The study is due to be published in the academic journal Economica later this year.