Boys Are Increasingly Affected By Unhealthy Body Image and Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders and body image issues are thought of by many as “girl problems,” but the truth is far less clear cut. While it is true that women are statistically more likely to develop anorexia or bulimia, countless men experience similar struggles in their lives. In fact, the number of boys at risk for eating disorders may be going up, according to recent studies.

One survey of 1,000 boys in the United Kingdom found that over half of males between the ages of 8 and 18 are battling unhealthy body images. Even more shocking, over half also said they “felt affected by eating disorders.”

The findings of the study also claim up to 55 percent of teenage boys said they would be willing to change their diet to look better, and 23 percent say they believe there is a “perfect” male body.

The problem isn’t limited to the U.K., though. Statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) say up to one-third of teenage boys “use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.”

Similarly, a report recently published in JAMA Pediatrics stated that 18 percent of adolescent boys “were prematurely concerned about their physique and half of them wanted to be bigger and stronger.”

Karen Fraser, director at Credos, the advertising agency which conducted the survey, spoke to the BBC to explain the findings of their research.

“Boys are increasingly worried about their appearance,” she said. “The relatively low awareness of boys’ body image issues amongst parents and teachers, coupled with a culture of boys not discussing their worries, makes it a tough environment for boys to seek support.”

The feeling of lacking family or adult support is backed by the findings. The report says 29 percent of boys felt uncomfortable talking to their parents about body image issues, and 56 percent felt uncomfortable talking to teachers about it.

While teenage boys felt more comfortable talking to their friends about their struggles, they may not be finding the support they need there. According to the study, peer pressure was the leading source of pressure to look perfect.

The findings highlight the need to better educate parents about body image problems and eating disorders to provide a more safe and productive environment to promote healthy behaviors and self-image. According to the survey, parents were worryingly unable to distinguish between struggles with unhealthy body image and striving to maintain a healthy body.

The small U.K. survey isn’t likely to be published in scientific journals. However, it shows that young boys with unhealthy body image or eating behaviors are being widely overlooked. Awareness efforts have been making strides to increase education about men and eating disorders, but clearly, there is still a long way to go.

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