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Eating Disorders are often Overlooked in Men

Update Date: Apr 09, 2014 09:35 AM EDT

Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are often perceived as "female" diseases. Since girls have higher incidence rates of eating disorders, diagnoses and treatments are often focused on this gender group. In a new study, researchers examined how stigmatizing eating disorders negatively impact males. They found that young men with the same conditions are often overlooked and undertreated.

For this study, researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow recruited 39 participants between the ages of 16 and 25. 10 of the participants were men. The researchers interviewed all of them about their experiences with diagnosis, treatment and support in relation to their eating disorder.

The researchers concluded that young men who have eating disorders were "underdiagnosed, undertreated and underresearched," reported by BBC News. The researchers found that in many of the cases, the male patients stated that they were unaware of the symptoms of eating disorders. They did not realize that purging, skipping meals and obsessive calorie counting were signs of various eating disorders.

When the researchers asked the young men about their perceptions of eating disorders, one of them stated that eating disorders only affected "fragile teenage girls." Another one of the male participants stated that eating disorders were "something girls got." Other male participants revealed that they had to wait a significant amount of time before they were referred to a specialist. Before the referral, they were often misdiagnosed.

"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," said researchers Dr. Ulla Raisanen and Dr. Kate Hunt.

In order to get men the same kind of care that women get, more initiatives and programs need to include men. Men also need to be better educated about the signs of an eating disorder, which could be different from women.

"It's a stigma for girls -- but it is horrendous for boys, but it's not something that is necessarily the same etiology," said Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Rose R. Kennedy Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City reported by ABC News. "It can be the guy who is purging to make weight on the wrestling team or the guy who wants the perfect body, but not necessarily the kind girls want -- they want to look shrink-wrapped for training."

The study, "The role of gendered constructions of eating disorders in delayed help-seeking in men: a qualitative interview study," was published in BMJ Open.

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