Most people assume eating disorders curse only females – that the bikini bodies gracing billboards and glossy magazines, beer commercials and NFL half-time shows perpetuate body image problems in the psyches of girls and women. Men are spared from insidious disorder. However, a study of 5,527 teenage males from across the U.S., published Nov.4 in JAMA Pediatrics, challenges this belief. Boston Children’s Hospital researchers found 17.9 percent of adolescent boys were extremely concerned about their weight and physique. These boys were more likely to start engaging in risky behaviors, including drug use and frequent binge drinking.
“Males and females have very different concerns about their weight and appearance,” says the study’s lead author Alison Field, ScD, from Boston Children’s Hospital Adolescent Medicine Division. Evaluations for eating disorders have been developed to reflect girls’ concerns with thinness but not boys’ concerns, which may be more focused on muscularity than thinness.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are characterized by an excessive influence of weight and physique on self-evaluation, with patients focused on being thin or wanting to losing weight.
Most eating disorder assessments reflect this desire for thinness and may overlook boys concerned about their weight and shape but who want to be more muscular. This may be the male equivalent of girls who are very concerned with their weight and who use vomiting or laxatives for weight control, according to Field.
“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,” says Field.
Published originally on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.