GIRLS AT successful schools are more likely to succumb to anorexia than those who attend lower achieving colleges, a specialist in eating disorders claimed yesterday.
The "hothouse" atmosphere of leading schools makes the students feel under more pressure to succeed and can trigger eating problems.
Sandra Passmore, a specialist in eating disorders at Birmingham Local Education Authority, said: "I have worked in selective, non- selective and private schools throughout Birmingham and although there are problems in all types of schools, they are more marked in the most successful ones," she said.
"There are lots of factors that contribute to eating disorders but we know that being an anorexic takes a lot of discipline. Girls who are very academic can lose themselves in their work to take their minds off how hungry they are."
The most recent data on the number of anorexics among female students was gathered by the Eating Disorders Association in 1994. It found that there were one in 500 sufferers in state schools, one in 100 among girls at independent schools, one in 55 at university, and one in ten at dance and drama schools.
But a spokesman for the association said the numbers had probably doubled in each category over the past six years.
Diane Cook, a clinical nursing specialist at the Woodbourne Priory Hospital, in Birmingham, said she had counselled girls from some of the top public schools in the region who weighed just five stone. Pupils were under more pressure than ever to succeed and there was a dangerous link between academic excellence and the quest for an impossibly thin body, she said.
"Girls are working incredibly hard, far more so than boys and often harder than they actually need to," she said.
"Their whole self worth is based on academic success and I believe there is a connection between over-achievement and over- dieting. …