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Israeli law bans ads featuring underweight models

israeli law, models, underweight models
An Israeli walks past an advertisement displayed on a main street in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, March 19, 2012. A new Israeli law, passed late Monday, is aimed at preventing the spread of eating disorders by banning underweight models from advertisements AP

(CBS News) In order to stop eating disorders from spreading in Israel, a new law will ban advertisers from featuring overly thin models and make companies disclose if digital tools were used to make the women and men seem skinnier than they actually are.

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The new law states that models with a Body Mass Index - height to weight ratio - of under 18.5 will not be hired for modeling jobs unless a doctor explicitly says they are not underweight. Also, if advertisers attempt to graphically make models skinnier, they must explicitly say so in the ad.

"Beautiful is not underweight, beautiful should not be anorexic," Dr. Rachel Adato, one of the lawmakers who pushed the bill and is also a gynecologist, told Reuters.

The law is the first attempt by a government to enforce a weight-influenced regulation on the fashion industry. While other countries have guidelines, they have shied away from actual legislation. Madrid's region government, for example, banned women with a BMI of under 18 from participating in Fashion Week. In 1996, the first year the law was enforced, 30 percent of the women who had previously modeled were not allowed to participate, CNN reported. In 2011, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) blocked an advertisement for clothing brand Drop Dead, which featured a model whose ribs were showing in her bikini. According to U.K. advertising news site Campaign, the ASA called the ad "socially irresponsible."

"We give a lot of lip service in the U.S. to concerns about super-skinny models and the risks to their health, but I applaud Israel for actually taking measures to enforce a ban on placing underweight models in ads," Dr. Orly Avitzur, medical adviser to Consumer Reports, told HealthPop in an email.

"The fashion industry all too often promotes an unrealistic and unhealthy ideal of beauty, sending the wrong message to women through its distortion of body image and contributing to disturbed eating behavior," she said.

The World Health Organization says that anything below a BMI of 18.5 is considered underweight. Anthropologist Sigal Gooldin told the Associated Press that 2 percent of Israeli girls between the ages of 14 to 18 suffer from an eating disorder, which is similar to levels found in other developed countries.

According to Avitzur, about 8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.

Reuters reported that the new law has gotten support from Israeli modelling agent Adi Barkan, a fashion industry activist who has worked on legislation to enforce weight minimum restrictions. "This is the difference between thin and too thin," Barkan said. "This is the difference between death and life."