Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Males: A Review of Rates Reported in Academic Research and UK Mass Media

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Males: A Review of Rates Reported in Academic Research and UK Mass Media

Article excerpt

EDs are a common form of mental ill-health and were named a clinical priority area for Youth Mental Health in 2013-2016 by the UK Royal College of General Practitioners (Royal College of General Practitioners [RCGP], 2013). However, EDs in males have been de- scribed as "underdiagnosed, undertreated and misunderstood" (Strother, Lemberg, Stanford, & Turbeville, 2012, p. 346), and their skewed gender distribution has often led to their construction as women's issues (Bramon-Bosch, Troop, & Treasure, 2000; Till, 2011; Wooldridge & Lyttle, 2012). Young men with EDs have described how these feminised cultural constructions of EDs predisposed them (and people around them-families, peers, health and education professionals) to overlook symptoms. The possibility that they may have an ED often simply did not occur to anyone until their symptoms had become entrenched (Räisänen & Hunt, 2014). This delay in recognising symptoms in men potentially has very serious consequences, as early ED diagnosis and treatment is crucial in the prevention of long term, potentially life-threatening, psychiatric morbidity (Räisänen & Hunt, 2014; Stanford & Lemberg, 2012). The first step in a process of timely help-seeking is for people with EDs to recognise their symptoms at an early stage, and respond to them as a potential sign of illness by evaluating their experiences in the light of accumulated "stock(s) of knowledge" and interactions with others (Wyke, Adamson, Dixon, & Hunt, 2013, p. 80). This paper takes one approach to questioning how these "stocks of knowledge" may be created at a cultural level. It examines how the prevalence of eating disorders (EDs) both overall, but particularly among men (compared to women) is presented in the media, and attempts to link the figures cited therein to research evidence.

The mass media are an important source of health knowledge (Hilton & Hunt, 2011 ; Lyons & Willott, 1999; Seale, 2002). Despite declining circulations, newspapers (including online versions) remain a significant public information source, although the volume and quality of reporting of health-related research in UK newspapers varies (Robinson, Coutinho, Bryden, & McKee, 2013). Paralleling declines in print newspapers, internet use has increased and now reaches most of the UK population, with around three-quarters of adult users ever having looked for online information about health and medical care (Dutton, Blank, & Groselj, 2013). High levels of ED-associated shame and secrecy might increase the likelihood that ED sufferers could seek information online (Murphy, Frost, Webster, & Schmidt, 2004).

However, media presentations are filtered and constructed in ways which impact on both knowledge and understanding. Stories can be given more or less prominence and framed in different ways, thus influencing how audiences make sense of the issues in question (Taylor & Sorenson, 2002). This is evident in the three studies of which we are aware relating to presentation of EDs in newspapers. A study of ED-related Italian newspaper articles published in 1985-95 concluded that descriptions of clinical symptoms largely corresponded with scientific literature, but the nature of articles changed over this period from describing isolated cases, to clinical descriptions and finally sensationalist articles about rising rates of anorexia (Mondini, Favaro, & Santonastaso, 1996). An analysis of the presentation of EDs in US daily papers over one year (1994-5) reported they were constructed as a (young) "female issue" and "a source of titillation" rather than as deserving serious consideration (O'Hara & Smith, 2007, pp. 47-48). Finally, an examination of UK newspaper articles on EDs published over the same period suggested these included more medical information and less optimism about recovery than US publications (Shepherd & Seale, 2010). We are not aware of studies focusing particularly on presentation of ED prevalence in the media. …

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