In the past, eating disorders have been characterised as women’s problems and men have been stigmatised from coming forward or have been unaware that they could have an eating disorder. Studies have shown an increase in the numbers, although it is uncertain whether more males actually have eating disorders now or are becoming more aware of the gender-neutral nature of eating disorder.
The male to female ratio is around 1:3, or 25% of all eating disorder cases. If 725,000 people in the UK are thought to have an eating disorder (Beat, 2015), then that means just over 180,000 of these are male.
The prevalence of males with binge eating disorder (BED) is slightly higher than those with anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BD). The BED figure is around 35-40%, as based on the DSM-IV criteria (Hudson, 2007). Boys as young as 8 have been diagnosed with AN in recent years.
Several factors lead to males being under- and undiagnosed for eating disorders. Men can face a double stigma, for having a disorder characterized as feminine or gay and for seeking psychological help. Additionally, assessment tests with language geared to females have led to misconceptions about the nature of male eating disorders.
Several factors have led to the rise of eating disorders in males. Where the need to be physically perfect was once exclusively directed at girls, today, boys are receiving similar pressure. The media is increasingly geared towards males being buff or lean or muscular, and the rise of the fitness industry, including bodybuilding, might be a reason why male eating disorders have risen.
Muscle dysmorphia, or bigorexia, is increasingly also being seen, where men and boys feel they are inadequately muscular, again due to their participation in sports that need some strength or size in order to compete, such as bodybuilding, wrestling, or rugby.
See the Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder section of our website for more information on this.
Hungry for Words is a piece of eating disorder research being conducted by the University of Nottingham with a focus on male anorexia. In December 2017 our Eating Disorder In Student Services (EDISS) delivered training workshops to a special Project and the culminating conference hosted by the University. We are now looking on building on the success of the project to raise awareness of male eating disorders. To that end we are supporting the University of Nottingham with a social media campaign to promote the work that was carried out in partnership.
For more information on Hungry for Words, please visit: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/groups/hungry-for-words/index.aspx