Organizers of a top fashion show in Spain say they will reject overly thin models who protesters say encourage eating disorders in girls.

The Association of Fashion Designers of Spain said it wanted to project "an image of beauty and health" for the Madrid show, which runs Sept. 18-22, rather than rail-thin looks.

Medical associations and women's advocacy groups protested last year's show, saying some models were too thin.

The show is using the body mass index or BMI, a calculation of weight in relation to height, to measure the models. About 30 per cent of would-be participants at a previous event failed the test.

World Health Organization experts recommend a BMI of between 18.5 and 25. The show has hired medics to check models. Models with a BMI of less than 18 will be turned down.

The fashion industry has a responsibility to portray healthy body images, including fuller-figured women, said Madrid's regional government, which sponsors the show.

Role models for young girls

Fashion shows "are mirrors for many young women," and the women who stroll down thecatwalk are role models for young girls obsessed with thinness, said Concha Guerra, deputy finance minister of the regional administration.

This is the first time extremely thin models have been excluded from a major international fashion show, said Jesus del Pozo, a designer who is part of the Spanish association running the show.

The fashion industry is being used as a scapegoat for eating disorders, responded Cathy Gould of New York's Elite modelling agency.

"I think it's outrageous," Gould told Reuters. "I understand they want to set this tone of healthy, beautiful women, but what about discrimination against the model and what about the freedom of the designer?"

The focus should be on designers' collections, not model size, a spokeswoman for the Spanish fashion designers association said.

So far, other major international fashion shows have not followed the Spanish example.

With files from The Associated Press.