UP TO one in three young women view bulimia and anorexia as desirable ways to stay slim, a Melbourne researcher has found after reviewing more than 30 studies on attitudes to eating disorders.
Rachel Gold, of La Trobe University, said ''negative or stigmatising'' attitudes towards eating disorders were likely stopping some sufferers from accessing treatment.
''Across the age spectrum there are some mistaken beliefs that there are positive aspects to eating disorders - that it's socially acceptable, that what they are doing is admirable or desirable, that they might be strong willed or that the symptoms are acceptable,'' she said.
Ms Gold presented her research at the Australian Psychological Society Conference in Perth late last month.
She has recently surveyed 470 students aged 15 to 17 from Melbourne to verify the findings of her research and to identify what messages would increase the likelihood of people seeking treatment for conditions including anorexia and bulimia.
''A number of studies have identified [these attitudes] in different parts of the community,'' she said.
''[My research] will give us more information. Some studies found it was as high as 30 per cent but the methodology is all over the place.
''We really want to know what that age group think because it's a high-risk group - it's the time these kind of disorders usually emerge.''
According to the Victorian Centre for Excellence in Eating Disorders, one in 20 Australian women admit to having suffered from an eating disorder while 25 per cent know someone who has one.
Ms Gold said despite public awareness of eating disorders, some people quoted in the studies she reviewed, which were conducted in Australia over the past three decades, characterised sufferers as ''overly vain'' and ''attention seeking''.
''Having those kind of negative or stigmatising attitudes towards people with those disorders means they are less likely to take someone presenting with those symptoms of an eating disorder as seriously, and it means they are less likely to get help, to get appropriate treatment and recover,'' she said.
Ms Gold said the proliferation of websites and blogs carrying tips for women on how to live a ''semi-rexic'' or ''part-time bulimic'' lifestyle was a big concern.
Help with an eating disorder can be found by calling 1800 497 333 or visiting www.psychology.org.au.