Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Social Support in a Men's Online Eating Disorder Forum

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Social Support in a Men's Online Eating Disorder Forum

Article excerpt

Recent research has shown social support to be a useful theoretical framework when investigating women's online eating disorder forums. We sought to identify the types of social support present and the various functions each serve for members of a men's online forum. To answer the research questions, we conducted a deductive thematic analysis of 358 posts by 89 members of a UK-based men's eating disorder forum. Consistent with past research on women's forums, the most common types of support were informational, emotional and personal disclosure. In addition, advice emerged as a unique and prominent category of social support. Five broad themes of social support are also discussed and implications for future research using the social support framework were provided.

Keywords: social support, online forum, eating disorder, qualitative research, men's health

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Research on the effects of sociocultural factors such as parents, peers and media has consistently shown that boys and men may develop eating disorders as they attempt to meet an unrealistic body ideal (Harrison, 2001, Levine & Harrison, 2009; Pope et al., 2000). Brumberg's (1988) comments, while specifically addressing women, ring true for men as well: "More often than not, those who strive for physical perfection are concerned about what they eat" (p. 558). Smolak, Murnen, and Thompson (2005) also note that the ideal male body type, which has become increasingly more muscular, has led to body dissatisfaction prompting men to eat in unhealthy ways. Indeed, content analyses show that the male body ideal has become increasingly more muscular and lean over the past several decades (Law & Labre, 2002; Labre, 2005; Leit, Pope, & Gray 2001; Pope et al., 1999; Frederick et al., 2005). Also, the number of men diagnosed with eating disorders has grown to alarming rates over the past few years, with many more going unreported. According to Weltzin (2010) of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), anorexia and bulimia are said to affect over 5 million Americans each year, with men making up 25 percent. Further, according to Levine and Harrison (2009) there is now a 3:2 ratio between women/men with binge eating behavior.

While the numbers of men with eating disorders have reached significance, eating disorders are traditionally viewed as a female problem (Andersen, 1990; Eliot & Baker, 2001). Such a misperception has damaging effects on men with eating disorders (Eliot & Baker, 2001). Today's Western culture is one where men are conditioned to hide potential eating problems because revealing a disorder is viewed as feminine by society (Bordo, 1999). Indeed, research suggests men are less likely than women to seek help (ANAD, 2011; Andersen, 1990). Consequently, a significant number of those with eating disorders go undiagnosed (Weltzin, 2010). Under-diagnosis is especially true in young boys--doctors are simply not looking for eating disorders in boys as much as in girls (Andersen, 1990; Weltzin, 2010). Therefore, many more men than reported may have eating disorders and even those who are diagnosed may not be receiving treatment until later in life.

The increased media focus on body ideals and the growing numbers of eating disorder diagnoses has led scholars to investigate eating disorder support groups, specifically online support groups. One rationale for the study of online support groups is the potential benefit received by their members. In a study of women with eating disorders, Walstrom (2000) found that online support groups are a useful alternative to face-to-face support groups. Goffman, (1967) in his discussion of "face" posits that we may avoid interaction when there is potential for embarrassment or humiliation. Online discussion boards present a venue to minimize such fears (Walstrom, 2000). Because information about eating disorders affecting men may not be readily and immediately available to those affected, men could turn to such online forums to receive preliminary information, guidance, and support from other men living with eating disorders. …

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