When the topic of eating disorders come up, young women usually come to mind; however, eating disorders also occur among men. A new study evaluated eating disorders among males. The study was published on November 26 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics by researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The study authors note that relatively little is known regarding concerns with physique and eating disorders among males and their relationship to subsequent adverse health outcomes. They stressed that a broader range of eating disorders must be defined in order to appropriately diagnose these illnesses in males. The objective of the study was to determine whether males with psychiatric symptoms related to disordered eating and concern about physique are more likely to become obese, to start taking drugs, to frequently consume alcohol (binge drinking), or to develop depression.
The investigators sent questionnaires sent every 12 to 36 months from 1999 through 2010 to young men in the prospective (forward-looking) study: the Growing Up Today Study. The assessment comprised 5,527 males aged 12 to 18 years in 1999 from across the US who responded to the Growing Up Today Study questionnaires. The main outcome measurements were the development of obesity, high levels of depressive symptoms, and/or initiation of drug use and binge drinking at least monthly.
The researchers found that from 1999 through 2011 in at least one study year, 9.2% of the adolescents reported significant concerns with muscularity but no bulimic behaviors: 2.4%, high concerns with muscularity and use of supplements, growth hormone derivatives, or anabolic steroids to achieve their desired physique; 2.5%, high concerns with thinness but no bulimic behaviors; and 6.3%, high concerns with thinness and muscularity. In regard to eating disorders, 0.8% had partial- or full-criteria bulimia nervosa or purging disorder, while 2.9% had partial- or full-criteria binge eating disorder but no association with the outcomes of interest. Infrequent binge eating or purging or overeating without a loss of control were reported by 31.0%. However, unrelated to age and body mass index, males with high concerns about thinness but not muscularity were more likely to develop significant depressive symptoms (2.72-fold increased risk). Males with high concerns about muscularity and thinness were more likely than their peers to take drugs (2.13-fold increased risk), and males with high concerns about muscularity who used supplements and other products to enhance physique were more likely to begin binge drinking frequently (2.06-fold increased risk).
The authors concluded that high concerns regarding muscularity are relatively common among adolescent boys and young men. Males with these concerns who use potentially unhealthy products to improve their physique are at increased risk of adverse outcomes; however, these individuals may not be recognized by their healthcare providers as having a weight-related disorder because of the sex-specific presentation.