LONDON (Reuters) - Girls aged under 16 should be banned from catwalk modelling to protect them from eating disorders and sexual exploitation, a panel of fashion and health experts said on Wednesday.
Older teenagers also need more protection, including chaperones at shows, according to the Model Health Inquiry, a group investigating models' health.
The panel said there was a trend for the industry to use younger models, who are more vulnerable to eating disorders such as anorexia.
"There was also strongly expressed concern that it is profoundly inappropriate that girls under 16 ... should be portrayed as adult women," said Baroness Kingsmill, chair of the panel.
"The risk of sexualising these children was high and designers could risk charges of sexual exploitation."
The inquiry was set up by the British Fashion Council, which runs London Fashion Week, in the wake of a long-running controversy over super-thin "size zero" models.
The panel rejected the idea of weighing models and banning those under a certain weight. It said "size zero" doesn't exist in British shops and is "meaningless".
It received mixed evidence on whether models should have tests to assess their body mass index, a measure of fat.
Many models told the inquiry that they feared losing work because they were not thin enough.
As well as eating disorders, the panel highlighted health risks from stress, substance abuse and poor working conditions.
"We have grave concerns about other health areas, such as drug and alcohol abuse and the stress caused by working conditions for model," the panel's interim report says.
"We are also concerned that modelling is very much a hidden profession with very little transparency about the working conditions that many models have to endure."
The panel wants better training for designers and agents to help them spot models with eating disorders.
There should be a clampdown on drugs and smoking backstage and models should have access to healthy food, it added.