According to a new UK study, young men are being “underdiagnosed” and “undertreated” for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, despite making up about a quarter of cases.
Researchers at the University of Oxford and University of Glasgow who conducted the study, found that a variety of factors could be contributing to this lack of support, including the overriding belief that eating disorders are primarily associated with women.
In the study, 39 young people aged 16 to 25 – including 10 men – were questioned about their experiences of diagnosis, treatment and support for eating disorders.
The results found that on the whole, young men with eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder – were “undiagnosed, undertreated and underresearched”.
Researchers also found that many of the male sufferers were actually unaware of their symptoms, despite regularly purging, starving themselves and obsessively counting calories.
Dr Ulla Raisanen and Dr Kate Hunt said:
“Our findings suggest that men may experience particular problems in recognising 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.”
One man who took part in the study admitted that he thought eating disorders only affected “fragile teenage girls”, whilst another revealed that his doctor had told him to “man up”.
In other cases, some of the young men were made to wait a long time before being referred to a specialist, and had sometimes been misdiagnosed.
In light of the research, Leanne Thorndyke, of the Beat eating disorders charity spoke up about her concerns that more and more people are succumbing to cultural pressures:
“The pressures on body weight and body image are affecting a much wider range of people, which obviously includes men.
“There is more pressure on men from magazines with celebrities and male models to have the ‘ideal’ body image.”