Eating disorders are commonly associated with women, but many men suffer from these conditions as well —causing them to go routinely underdiagnosed, Medical News Today reported.
An estimated 10 to 15 percent of Americans with eating disorders are male, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). However, new research published in BMJ Open suggests these estimates are likely too low since symptoms of eating disorders are poorly recognized in men.
British researchers interviewed 39 individuals, including 10 men, between the ages of 16 and 25 about their experiences with eating disorders. For the men, it took months – or even years – to recognize certain associated behaviors, including going for days without eating, purging and obsessive exercising.
The male participants revealed that their delayed recognition was due to the assumption that eating disorders only affected women. Researchers reported that one man said he thought eating disorders only affected “fragile teenage girls.”
Other reasons male participants delayed seeking help, because they thought they wouldn’t be taken seriously by health care professionals, or they didn’t know where to go for help. Many of the men did visit their doctors, but it took several visits before they were taken seriously.
Researchers concluded that early detection and social awareness of eating disorders in men are key to ensuring both men and women receive help and support before their symptoms become unmanageable.
“It is important to decouple the experience and (self-)management of eating disorders from feminized cultural imagery, resources and clinical practice if we wish to prevent men from (dis)missing signs and symptoms themselves, and prevent health and other professionals (e.g., teachers) from overlooking signs and symptoms in boys and young men that they may readily recognize as indicative of eating disorders in young women," the study authors said.