eatingdisorderMen are more likely than women to experience mental health issues like depression when dissatisfied with their body image, researchers have found.

Dr Scott Griffiths, lead researcher from The University of Sydney in Australia, suggested that the phenomenon is a growing public health issue as the research found that men with body image issues are up to 4 times more likely than females to be undiagnosed.

To date, research into body-image problems has focused on adolescent girls, young women and anorexia. This research suggests males unsatisfied with their body image may be at high risk not only of extreme dieting and purging but are also disproportionately likely to experience quality of life issues such as depression – partly as a result of perceptions of how men should look in terms of muscle tone and height. The problems are exacerbated by stigma associated with males suffering from what tends to be seen as a female problem.

“Although our data suggests that, overall, the burden of body dissatisfaction is borne disproportionately by females, males with body dissatisfaction may be a particularly high-risk group,” said Dr Griffiths. “The additional stigma towards men is that they are less masculine by virtue of suffering from a stereotypically female problem. In addition, men report feeling less worthy if they need to ask for help, and this has been associated, in our research, with an increased likelihood of men with eating disorders remaining undiagnosed – 4 times more likely in our study.”

Tom Quinn, eating disorder charity Beat’s director of external affairs, added: “We are seeing an increasing number of males coming forward for treatment for eating disorders. This latest research demonstrates how much more understanding and support there should be for men who represent in the region of 15-20% of the 725,000 people diagnosed with an eating disorder in the UK. There also needs to be more designated treatment available specifically for them.”

There has been a 63% increase in males in the UK admitted to hospital with an eating disorder over the past five years. This may be because there is more awareness and therefore they are more likely to come forward for treatment than previously. However, it is felt that these figures are still the tip of the iceberg. 

Given that there is still a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around eating disorders in general, men in particular can find it difficult to seek help – often finding it more difficult to discuss their feelings, their health and (if applicable) issues around sexuality. GPs are less likely to diagnose the illness in males and specialist treatment is often geared around females. 

“Getting help can seem like an overwhelmingly impossible task so more work needs to be undertaken to ensure that men, as well as women, get the support and treatment they need,” concluded Quinn.