Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Discussions about eating disorders and body image usually revolve around women and a new study from the University of Oxford in England has found that young men are not receiving as much attention as they should regarding these issues.
Published in the open-access journal BMJ Open, the new study revealed that young men are underdiagnosed and undertreated for eating disorders – regardless of the fact that they only comprised about 1-in-4 cases.
In the study, researchers talked with 39 individuals between the ages of 16 and 25 about eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia nervosa and anorexia. All 10 male participants took some time to understand that their activities and behaviors were possible indications of an eating disorder. These behaviors included going days without eating; purging; and obsessing over weight and exercise.
Male participants cited gender stigma as one of the main reasons why it took them so long to see the potential signs. One male participant said eating disorders were a condition for “fragile teenage girls,” while another said bulimia and anorexia were “something girls got.”
Also, friends and family did not see their behaviors as symptoms of an eating disorder, chalking participants unhealthy behavior up to personal choice. The male volunteers said only a medical incident or crisis convinced them that something was wrong.
After delaying treatment, then finally seeking it – the males said their treatment experiences were mixed. They said they felt like low priority patients, found little male-specific documentation and in one case, told by the doctor “to man up.”
“I did start Googling it and I came across eventually on Facebook the ‘Men have eating disorders too’, as well, and there was a couple of other websites that I looked at,” one male participant told the researchers. “But there’s still in my opinion there’s still no real information of what you do or where you go.”
“Men with eating disorders are underdiagnosed, undertreated and under researched,” the study authors wrote. “Our findings suggest that men may experience particular problems in recognizing that they may have an eating disorder as a result of the continuing cultural construction of eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem.”
The researchers added that gender bias on this issue has “also been embedded in clinical practice,” adding that “early detection is imperative” in treating these disorders.
Leanne Thorndyke, of the UK eating-disorder charity Beat, told BBC News that a larger and larger section of society is feeling pressure regarding their body image.
“The pressures on body weight and body image are affecting a much wider range of people, which obviously includes men,” she said. “There is more pressure on men from magazines with celebrities and male models to have the ‘ideal’ body image.”
“Boys and men tend to want to be bigger and more muscular and toned, which is a different ideal to women,” she continued, adding that in modern society, we are “bombarded by images every day from all angles, something that just wasn’t there only a few years ago.”