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Sexual Harassment Tied to "Purging" in Men

Update Date: May 10, 2013 10:07 AM EDT

High levels of sexual harassment is more likely to trigger purging in men than in women, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Michigan State University found that men who experience high levels of sexual harassment are significantly more likely than women to induce vomiting and take laxatives and diuretics in an attempt to control their weight.

Researchers say the latest study is the first to look at how sexual harassment affects body image and eating behaviors in both women and men.

Unsurprisingly, women reported more sexual harassment and greater overall weight and shape concerns and disordered eating behavior in response to sexual harassment.

However, researchers were surprised to find that men were significantly more likely to engage in purging "compensatory" behaviors at high levels of sexual harassment.

"Traditionally, there has been a misperception that men are not sexually harassed," lead author Nicole Buchanan said in a news release.

"And while women do experience much higher rates of sexual harassment, when men experience these kinds of behaviors and find them distressing, then you see the same types of responses you see in women - and in the case of compensatory behaviors, even more so," Buchanan added.

For the study researchers surveyed 2,446 college-aged participants on their experiences with sexual harassment, body image and eating behaviors.

Sexual harassment can come in many different forms and can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression, concerns about body image and dysfunctional eating.

The latest findings suggest that there are certain features of sexual harassment that are particularly powerful in triggering purging behaviors in males.  Researchers said that eating disorders are increasing among men in the United States, particularly younger men.  However, the vast majority of prevention programs are designed for girls and women.

"Although boys and men have lower rates of weight/shape concerns and eating disturbances, these issues are still significant and warrant intervention," Buchanan said.

The findings are published in the journal Body Image.

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