French bill outlaws pro-anorexia websites

People behind anorexia-promoting websites could be jailed in France under a law that has been passed by one of the country's two houses of parliament.

Lower house the French National Assembly adopted a bill aimed at criminalising "incitement to excessive thinness by publicising of any kind". The bill carries a penalty of up to three years in jail and a fine of €45,000.

A number of websites publish advice and encouragement to people, mostly young women, who want to be dangerously thin. These are targetted by the French bill in order to protect the 40,000 anorexics living in France.

The law is aimed at sites which provoke a person to excessive weight loss by encouraging prolonged restriction of food, risking death or directly compromising the person's health.

"Giving young girls advice about how to lie to their doctors, telling them what kinds of food are easiest to vomit, encouraging them to torture themselves whenever they take any kind of food is not part of liberty of expression," health minister Roselyne Bachelot told parliament, according to the Reuters news agency.

"The messages sent out here are messages of death. Our country should have the means of finding and prosecuting those behind sites like this," she said.

For those behind such sites, the law will carry a penalty of two years in jail and a fine of €30,000. This would rise to three years in jail and €45,000 fines if there has been a death caused by anorexia connected with the site.

The law is aimed at all publications but the internet and the virtual communities it can create are seen as particularly fertile breeding ground for anorexia promoting groups. The sites are often called pro-ana sites.

Companies involved in the French fashion industry signed a voluntary charter last week to help promote healthy body images but the French government stopped short of imposing a compulsory ban on using models considered to be too thin.

The law must be approved by the Senate before it becomes law.