Trying To Be Buff: Eating Disorders In Teen Boys Surprisingly Widespread

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(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

WBUR's Rachel Paiste reports:

A Boston Children's Hospital study finds eating disorders are more common in males than had been realized.

Of 5,500 teenage males in the study, nearly one in five was extremely concerned about his weight and physique.

Lead author Dr. Alison Field says current eating disorder evaluations reflect girls' concerns with thinness, but not boys' concerns with muscularity.

"There are males who are extremely focused on their physique," she said, "just as some eating-disordered females might be, but they're not trying to get thinner, they're trying to become more muscular. And they're willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal."

Field says male teens who use potentially unhealthy supplements and steroids are twice as likely to binge drink frequently, and much more likely than their peers to start using drugs.

My reaction: Rings true. Girls are bombarded with unrealistic images of twiggy models, and boys are bombarded with unrealistic images of buff warriors, from video games to movies. "All heroes have sixpacks; shouldn't I, too?"

From the press release:

Boston−November 4, 2013 - Parents and doctors assume eating disorders very rarely affect males. 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....

Boys tended to be more interested in muscularity than thinness, with 9.2 percent of males reporting high concerns with muscularity, compared with 2.5 percent concerned about thinness and 6.3 percent concerned with both aspects of appearance.

"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.

This program aired on November 6, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.