Top Israeli retail companies have agreed not to employ overly thin models for their advertisements, joining a growing global campaign to fight anorexia within the fashion industry.

Adi Barkan, a leading fashion photographer, says he has secured commitments from firms that account for 60 per cent of advertising volume in Israel to turn away models whose body mass index – the ratio of height to weight – is less than 18.

“The average BMI among our models is 14,” he said.

“The new pact comes into effect next week, when we expect all the major fashion agencies to sign on.”

He says underweight models would have a grace period to catch up.

The agreement has been confirmed by the participating companies in statements to Maariv newspaper.

It follows on the heels of a ban on too skinny models from the prestigious Madrid fashion week last week, which prompted calls from British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell for similar steps in her country.

According to Mr Barkan, Israel has the fourth highest rate of anorexia in the industrialised world. It is a phenomenon that he blames on the clashing cultural forces in the Jewish state.

“On the one hand, we want to be America, but on the other hand, we live in the Levant, with all the pressures and expectations that entails for young women when it comes to their appearance,” he said.

Legislation that would enforce the BMI threshold throughout Israel’s fashion industry has passed a first reading in Parliament and could be ratified by year’s end, Mr Barkan says.