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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Skinny on Male Eating Disorders: Increasing Numbers Raise Awareness

(ARA) - The prevalence of male eating disorders has become alarmingly more apparent in recent years, leaving medical and psychological establishments attempting to pinpoint just what has led to this escalation. On the heels of a University of Toronto study in 2000 suggesting that one out of every six people who qualified for a full or partial diagnosis of anorexia was male, researchers assembled their line of usual suspects to account for the significant departure from the one in ten frequently reported.

In the face of such studies, implications that damaging effects of cultural and media pressures that glorify thinness and endorse narrow definitions of beauty have surfaced. “Research has shown that the media play an impressive role in shaping, instead of merely reflecting, conceptions of the ideal body,” says Dr. Lou Rappaport, eating disorders expert and associate dean of the school of psychology and behavioral science at Argosy University/San Francisco Bay Area in Point Richmond, Calif. “I think marketing of a certain body image and clothing is part and parcel of eating disorders.”

Similar to women who have been compelled to uphold images of twig-thin models for years, men are more likely today to be swayed with depictions of thickly-packed muscular torsos, visible ripples of abs, and narrow waists. Experts point out that these pictures only reinforce the perception that “normal” bodies are not culturally-acceptable. “We live in a world in which men wear designer underwear,” Dr. Rappaport adds. “Images matter. I can’t say that they don’t, and men are not immune to their effects.”

While the bulk of media messages advancing an unnatural slenderness or muscle composition may be counterproductive to a positive self-image, it is not the proverbial silver bullet. Dr. Rappaport warns that the media cannot be viewed as the sole cause of male eating disorders. “There are also too many variables. For example, organized sports in elementary and middle school, such as boys needing to be below a certain weight to play on a football team, are also a part of this. The Greeks and Romans went down this road of glorification of the body. They are gone, and we seem to have learned little from that lesson.”

So what other factors are contributing to the upswing of male-eating disorder cases reported in studies? For one, more professions today, such as male actors or athletes, demand body types that promote unhealthy weight loss and excessive exercise. Research reveals that incidents of eating disorders are particularly common among those whose weight is critical to their job prospects.

Analysis of eating-disorder sufferers often has yielded four prominent factors thought to provoke the onset of the affliction: genetics, low self-esteem, trauma, and cultural influences. However, given that most of the studies and research focused largely on females, some in the field were skeptical that low confidence and cultural pressure could influence male eating habits. After all, it seemed difficult to absorb – with today’s popular culture flush with macho male archetypes and caricatures – that the relentless marketing of the “ideal body” might affect men in a similar manner as women.

It also looks as if health professionals are gradually becoming more adept at recognizing male eating disorders, inevitably leading to higher numbers of reported cases. In the past, men were often identified as suffering from depression with associated appetite changes rather than diagnosed with an eating disorder. Furthermore, mounting sentiment among researchers suggest that there has been an increase in the number of men seeking medical and psychological attention. Traditionally, men have been reluctant to pursue treatment, perhaps in response to the effeminate stereotype that surrounds the disorders.

But as the myth of the eating disorder as a “women’s disease” becomes discredited and education develops to incorporate a male perspective, more men appear ready to accept their problem instead of denying or covering it up. Experts contend that male eating disorders may have been as common throughout the past quarter century as the University of Toronto study indicates they are at present. Only now, they suggest, the medical community is better equipped to take notice.

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR’S NOTE: Argosy University/San Francisco Bay Area is one of 13 Argosy University ( campuses and four extension sites across the nation offering undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degrees in the disciplines of business, education, health sciences, and psychology and behavioral sciences. Argosy University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association (NCA) (30 North LaSalle Street, Suite 2400, Chicago, IL 60602, 1.312.263.0456,

The parent company of Argosy University, Education Management Corporation (, is among the largest providers of private post-secondary education in North America, based on student enrollment and revenue. Student enrollment exceeded 66,000 as of fall 2004. EDMC has 71 primary campus locations in 24 states and two Canadian provinces. EDMC's education institutions offer a broad range of academic programs concentrated in the media arts, design, fashion, culinary arts, behavioral sciences, health sciences, education, information technology, legal studies, and business fields, culminating in the award of associate's through doctoral degrees. EDMC has provided career-oriented education for over 40 years.


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