Teen Boys Struggle With Body Image Eating Disorders
November 5, 2013

Teen Boys Also Struggle With Body Image And Eating Disorders

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Last month Dr. Theodore E. Weltzin and colleagues presented a paper at the National Eating Disorders Association conference which challenged a long-held belief that only girls were affected by anorexia, bulimia and other dangerous eating disorders. A newly published study further confirms their findings, finding that as many as 17.9 percent of teenage boys are “extremely concerned” about their build and weight. These boys were also more likely to become depressed and begin taking drugs or binge drinking.

Numerous studies have shown boys and men are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior, and according to the researchers of this latest study, the same can be true of those males who are worried about their body image. Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital studied over five thousand teenage boys for eleven years and found that while they were more interested in achieving a different body shape than girls, they were still willing to go to extreme measures to reach their goals. The study, now published in the latest issue of JAMA Pediatrics, challenges the old notion that people with eating disorders are only female and concerned with being skinny.

Of the boys observed in the study, 9.2 percent said they were “highly concerned” with obtaining a muscular body shape, but only 2.5 percent said they merely wanted to be skinny. A combined 6.3 percent of boys said they wanted to be both muscular and skinny, and a majority of the boys who were highly concerned with their body image said they were willing to engage in dangerous behavior to achieve their ideal shape.

According to Alison Field, ScD, from Boston Children’s Hospital Adolescent Medicine Division and lead researcher in this study, the boys who were willing to engage in risky behaviors were much more likely to take their attempts to achieve an ideal shape to extremes. For instance, those boys who both wanted a muscular build and took dangerous growth hormones and supplements were twice as likely to binge drink than those boys who had not taken any supplements. What’s more, these boys were much more likely to use other drugs in their quest for what they believed to be an ideal shape. The smaller percentage of boys who preferred being skinny were more likely to become depressed than those boys who were not as concerned about their shape.

When clinical criteria used to diagnose teenage girls with eating disorders were applied, some 2.9 percent of the boys in the study were found to have some sort of eating disorder. One-third of all respondents said that they had binged and purged or engaged in some other dangerous eating at some point. As anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are both characterized by excessive worry about weight and body image, Field says her research should correct assumptions that teenagers with eating disorders are only concerned with being thin.

“Clinicians may not be aware that some of their male patients are so preoccupied with their weight and shape that they are using unhealthy methods to achieve the physique they desire, and parents are not aware that they should be as concerned about eating disorders and an excessive focus on weight and shape in their sons as in their daughters,” said Field in a statement.

Boys who are excessively concerned with their body image might be so poorly understood because they’re unwilling to talk about it. According to Dr. Weltzin’s research, boys may be less likely to talk about their disease or even admit they struggle with these issues because it’s so often assumed that only girls are affected by eating disorders.