"Thinspiration," such as photos or videos of very thin models and actresses, were on 85 percent of the sites. And about 43 percent provided specific instructions on concealing eating disorders, according to the study.
Patients with eating disorders have been known to go to great lengths to hide their weight loss, explained Dr. Ira Sacker, an eating disorder specialist, including drinking lots of water before being weighed and hiding weights in their clothes.
About one-third of sites did include information about recovery or treatment, though only 13 percent of sites contained an overt statement that eating disorders are a problem.
"Some people who create these messages stand behind what they are doing, while another fraction realize this is troubling and they are suffering," Borzekowski, said. "You get mixed messages."
The study is published in the June 17 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Previous research suggests that teens exposed to pro-eating disorder Web sites do have higher levels of body dissatisfaction compared to adolescents that have not been exposed. Other studies found that teens who spent time on these sites tend to have harder-to-treat eating disorders, according to background information in the study.
Sacker has been treating patients with eating disorders for some 40 years. He can remember his dismay when he first started seeing pro-eating disorder sites pop up in the early 1990s.
"These are really scary," Sacker said. "The people on these sites want to be using the eating disorder as their identity, and they want to communicate with others like them. That makes them believe there is a safety in it and a community behind it, which reinforces that what they are doing is OK. It's almost like a cheerleading group."
In 2001, the search engines Yahoo and MSN agreed to shut down overtly pro-eating disorder sites, according to
All rights reserved