Eating Disorders in Men: A Community-Based Study

By Gadalla, Tahany M. | International Journal of Men's Health, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Eating Disorders in Men: A Community-Based Study


Gadalla, Tahany M., International Journal of Men's Health


This study examines the prevalence of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors and their associations with socio-demographic characteristics, body weight and physical activity in a nationally representative sample of Canadian men. The study considers gender differences in dieting behaviors and level and intensity of physical exercise. Results indicate that risk for eating disorders is associated with men's age, stress level, living arrangement, body weight and engagement in daily physical exercise. Men at risk for eating disorders adopt fewer oral control and dietary restrain behaviors, are less preoccupied with body shape, and show less desire for thinness compared to women. There was no gender difference in engaging in compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, level or intensity of physical exercise.

Keywords: eating disorders, men, community studies

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Eating disorders (ED) are much more common among women than men and have long been assumed to be found exclusively in women. Consequently, few studies have focused on such disorders in men and even fewer attempted to compare men with and without ED or men and women with these disorders. However, with the increasing pressure on men to be fit and to look muscular, there is evidence that body dissatisfaction and ED in men are increasing (O'Dea & Abraham, 2002).

Men have been reported to comprise between 5-10 percent of individuals with ED in clinical settings (Geist, Heinmaa, Katzman & Stephens, 1999; Woodside, 2002), with significantly more gay and bisexual men suffering from these disorders compared with heterosexual men (Feldman & Meyer, 2007). However, there is evidence that more men in the general population have ED (Woodside, Garfinkel, Lin et al., 2001) and that ED in men are under-diagnosed and under-treated (Weltzin, Weisensel, Franczyk, Burnett, Klitz, & Bean, 2005; Woodside, 2004). Men may not seek treatment due to experiencing fewer severe symptoms or because they may not consider themselves at risk for eating disorders (Woodside). Other barriers to seeking treatment may include cultural biases and lack of treatment settings that are dedicated for men with ED (Weltzin et al.).

Barry, Grilo, and Masheb (2002) examined gender differences in patients with binge eating disorder and reported that men and women did not differ on measures of eating-related features such as eating concerns, shape or weight concerns. Similar results were found in an earlier study (Tanofsky, Wilfley, Spurrell, Welch, & Brownell, 1997). No gender differences on other clinical variables such as age of onset, frequency of various symptoms or duration of illness were found (Barry et al.; Geist et al., 1999; Olivardia, Pope, Mandweth, & Hudson, 1995; Woodside, 2001). Like women with ED (Gruber, Pope, Borowiecki, & Cohane, 2001), men with ED were found to have an exaggerated perception of their body fat compared to controls (Mangweth, Hausmann, Walch et al., 2004). However, women with binge eating disorder reported significantly greater body image dissatisfaction and drive for thinness compared to men with the same disorder (Barry et al.).

Gender differences in risk factors for ED and body dissatisfaction such as self-esteem, perfectionism and mass-media influence have been suggested (Elgin & Pritchard, 2006). Specifically, self-esteem, perfectionism and mass-media influence were related to disordered eating behavior in women, whereas only perfectionism and mass-media influence were related to disordered eating behavior in men. In addition, self-esteem and mass-media influence were related to body image dissatisfaction in women, whereas perfectionism and mass media influence were related to body image dissatisfaction in men (Elgin & Pritchard). Lower socio-economic status and single marital status have been indicated as risk factors for ED in both genders. For example, Lindblad, Lindberg and Hjern (2006) found a higher proportion of single-parent families and families in need of child welfare among families of male patients with anorexia nervosa compared to the general population. …

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