Young men may have eating disorders too
EATING disorders are often associated with young women, but a new study suggests that young men can also become obsessed with their appearance and go to extremes to enhance their bodies.
The problem can resemble a traditional eating disorder or involve the use of drugs and supplements, and it tends to be followed by depression and binge-drinking, according to United States researchers.
"Our research would suggest we need to be thinking more broadly about eating disorders and consider men as well," said Dr Alison Field, the study's lead author and an associate professor of paediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital.
Classic eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, in which a person refuses to eat, and bulimia nervosa, in which a person binge-eats before purging through vomiting or use of laxatives.
"For many young men, what they're striving for is different from women," Dr Field said. "They're probably engaged in something different from purging."
It has been estimated that one in 10 people diagnosed with an eating disorder is male.
For the study, Dr Field and her colleagues used survey responses collected between 1999 and 2011 to see what concerns teenage boys had about their bodies.
The team also wanted to know if eating disorders were tied to future unhealthy behaviour, such as drug and alcohol use.
The surveys were answered every one to three years by 5,527 boys who were between the ages of 12 and 18 at the start of the study in 1999.
The researchers found that 31 per cent of the young men had, at some point, binged on food or purged.
About 9 per cent reported a high level of concern with their body's muscularity and about 2 per cent were both concerned about muscularity and had used some type of supplement, growth-hormone derivative or anabolic steroid to enhance it.
The number of respondents between the ages of 16 and 22 who used such products was about 8 per cent.
"The results from this study would suggest that young men who are extremely concerned about their physique are doing or using things that may or may not be healthy," Dr Field said.
"There are a whole range of products available online that we don't know if they're healthy or not."
Those who used enhancement products were also more likely than their peers to binge-drink and use drugs, the researchers found.
Dr Field said the behaviour of those men could be the male equivalent of binge-and-purge disorders seen in women, because men use the products to alter their bodies.
About 6 per cent of the men surveyed said that, in addition to muscularity, they were also concerned about thinness.
However, overall, they were more likely to be focused on muscularity and that concern increased with age.
Between 2 per cent and 3 per cent were concerned only about thinness. They were more likely to develop symptoms of depression later on.
Dr Field suggested that doctors and parents should be aware of their patients' or children's attempts to change their bodies, to make sure it is being done for the right reasons and in a healthy way.
"It's a good time to have that conversation," she said.