Health & Medicine

Spain tackles eating disorders

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

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A new law going into effect in Spain bans, before ten o’clock at night, the broadcasting of TV ads that promote beauty products and treatments that suggest surgical or chemical ways to achieve a perfect body. The law was prompted by concern that the ads were fueling a rise in eating disorders in young people.

"I don't think it damages a child to say we offer hair removal, or aesthetic surgery," says one Spanish doctor. "We're just promoting a product like any other. As long as we're not promoting pornography or misleading anyone, I think our advert should be allowed."

The new law restricts ads for all products that promote the "cult of the body" -- as Spaniards call it -- and can trigger eating disorders like anorexia. The Spanish parliament did consider banning advertising for low-fat foods too, though that was overruled.

Images from TV series in Spain are just as influential, says one teenager. "All the main women in the series always have perfect bodies, so children who don't have a figure like that have a complex."

Florencia from Barcelona was one of those children. She says she was 13 when she started refusing food, and 15 when she became seriously ill with anorexia. First inspired by a character in a TV series, she then got advice on starving herself from the Internet.

Now recovered, she feels the pressure to be slim in Spain is growing. "It seems like every advert on TV now is for slimming pills or diet products. They have a very strong influence on people who are already obsessed with their figure. It's like they're conditioning you to think a certain kind of body is good. With this new law, at least children won't see the ads from an early age, so they'll have less of an impact."

Spain is already a pioneer in this field. The government has a deal with several clothing chains to ban the smallest mannequins from their window displays. It also outlawed stick-think models on the catwalk.

One politician calls the advertising law an important next step. "The problem is that the media promotes a prototype of beauty that is not real, and this can affect the self esteem of young people."

He says Spain isn't banning the advertising, just limiting them to a certain time, when children aren't watching TV.

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