The Internet is being blamed by researchers in the U.S. for exacerbating the problems of anorexia and bulimia in young people.
According to a new pilot study by researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, children as young as 10 are learning new weight loss or purging methods from web sites that promote eating disorders.
It seems the growing number of Internet chat rooms dedicated to perpetuating the illnesses encourages users to share tips, such as what drugs induce vomiting and what Internet sites sell them.
All too often the young victims of anorexia and bulimia are trying to hide their eating problems from their parents and doctors, and are turning to web sites aimed at helping them recover, to learn new high-risk ways to lose weight from each other.
The study author Rebecka Peebles, an adolescent medicine and eating disorder specialist says parents and doctors need to realize that the Internet is essentially an unmonitored media forum, and it is not possible to completely control the content of an interactive site.
In the period between 2001 and 2003 pro-eating disorder sites began appearing on the Internet and despite attempts to remove them many pro-anorexia and bulimia sites remain accessible and most users are able to find them and pro-recovery sites by doing chance searches.
Some of the reported conversations on pro-anorexia chat rooms are extremely worrying especially when quite young people talk of buying drugs off the Internet to induce vomiting.
The fashion industry has to accept much of the blame for encouraging anorexia and bulimia among teen-agers with its promotion of excessively thin models and was in the news recently following the deaths of two models suffering from anorexia in Brazil and Uruguay.
Peebles says while parents do not let their children go out to dinner or talk on the phone with someone they don't know, the Internet is an unmonitored media forum and they should also ask themselves what their child might be up to on the computer.
She says unlike adults, teens make few distinctions between "real" friends and people they know only online.
While half of the parents surveyed said they were aware of web sites promoting eating disorders, only 28 percent had ever discussed such sites with their child and only 20 percent said they placed limits on their child's Internet use.
The study is published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal Pediatrics.