Health: Sites Walk A Thin Line

If a food craving strikes, try a manicure to "keep your hands occupied." This kind of tip is common fare on pro-"ana" (anorexia) and pro-"mia" (bulimia) Web sites. Well intended or not, they're not "benign," says Dr. Rebecka Peebles of Stanford University, coauthor of "Surfing for Thinness," published in Pediatrics last week. Stanford researchers surveyed patients treated for eating disorders, ages 10 to 22, and found that users of pro-eating-disorder sites were sick longer. And 96 percent of them reported learning new tips for weight loss or purging; 69 percent said they used them.

The sites tend to gloss over bad news: people with anorexia are 56 times more likely than their peers to commit suicide. (And they're not broadcasting the November anorexia-related death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston.)

Sites deny being harmful, saying they provide a community for those with eating disorders. The term "pro-ana" is broadly used, and sites vary greatly. "We offer them support, saying, 'It will be. Continue going to your doctor'," says five-foot, 89-pound owner Anna Robbins.

In November, the Academy for Eating Disorders suggested a mandatory warning statement: "Warning: anorexia nervosa is a potentially deadly illness. The site you are about to enter provides material that may be detrimental to your health."