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Not just a girl thing, young men have eating disorders, too: Study

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In almost all cultures, eating disorders have always been associated to women. A recent study, however, reveals that men also have these eating disorders (EDs), without them fully recognizing or knowing they have it.

The study, titled The role of gendered constructions of eating disorders in delayed help-seeking in men: a qualitative interview study, enumerates four kinds of EDs: bulimia nervosa (BN), anorexia nervosa (AN), binge eating disorder and another eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Of all adolescent-related psychiatric disorders, anorexia nervosa records the highest mortality rate.

The study, published by the British Medical Journal, underscores the main reason EDs among men have been overlooked - stereotyping of ED as an illness only occurring among women.

"The widespread perception of EDs eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem led to an initial failure by young men to recognise their behaviours as symptoms of an ED," the study says.

Authored by Ulla Räisänen and Kate Hunt, the study also finds out that men failed to recognize such illness for a number of reasons. One is because of the lack of awareness of the EDs among men. Second is the lack of gender-appropriate resources and information for men who have the illness. Third is health practitioners have been too slow as well in recognizing the symptoms just because the affected demographic were men.

EDs are a common form of mental ill health, according to the study, and has become a clinical priority area for Youth Mental Health in 2013-2016 by the Royal College of General Practitioners in the UK because of the increasing number of affected individuals. Participants of the study were, in fact, 10 men from the UK, aged 16 to 25 years old who have various eating disorders such as BN and AN. This makes the study and its findings limited only to the younger bracket, thus does not constitute any understanding to cases of older people with said disorders.

Still, EDs remain more prevalent in women. In the UK alone, 1 in 250 women has AN as opposed to 1 in 2000 men. However, men have more cases of BN and EDNOS than AN.

Based on various estimates, 10 to 25 percent of clinical ED cases occur in men. Regardless whether such estimate is precise or not, the study says one thing is true: the incidence of EDs in men has been growing over the years.

Statistics from the study likewise show that up to 70 percent of BN and AN cases have been caused by unfavorable events in life such as abuse or substance abuse in the family, specific personality traits, existing psychiatric conditions or complex sociocultural factors on body image. In some studies, homosexuality has also been identified as a risk factor for men with EDs. It has been identified as well that genetic factors can influence the onset of EDs.

Further, it has also been discovered in some studies that men with EDs are more prone to engage in obsessive exercise.

Study suggests, to prevent the development of potentially life-threatening illness, there should be early diagnosis and intervention. Otherwise, treatment includes dietary advice and pharmacological and psychological interventions.

However, the problem with early detection comes in to the picture.

"Yet, to date, very little is known about how men recognise ED symptoms and decide to seek professional help. Qualitative studies of men's experiences of EDs are sparse and have focused mainly on EDs and exercise, body image, dieting practices and sexual orientation," the study confirms.

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