Action figures expose boys to unattainable and unrealistic body images – and 40% of US teens with eating disorders are now male
Men focus on extreme muscularity rather than extreme thinnessSome do SIX hours of exercise EVERY DAYIntense exercise leads to brittle bones and fractures
09:12 GMT, 12 July 2012
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are often thought to be the preserve of young women.
But some 40 per cent of American teenagers and 25 per cent of all American adults battling such conditions are actually male, according to Harvard research.
Therapists have also revealed that more men and boys than ever before are seeking help for issues with weight and self-esteem – and that children's action figures are to blame.
Gruelling: Men with eating disorders tend to focus on extreme muscularity rather than extreme thinness
Previous research suggested that only 10 per cent of eating disorder sufferers were male.
But, speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago-based therapist Niquie Dworkin says males are tormented by the same kind of
unattainable body images that have long plagued women and girls.
figures used to look normal,' she said. 'Now they're superhuman with
really cut abs and really big shoulders. Even little boys are being
exposed to images of men that are not realistic.'
But while eating disorders in both men and women
appear to have similar roots in genetics, media messages, perfectionism
and low self-esteem, symptoms are often contrasting.
Experts say a
big difference is that men usually focus on muscularity, not thinness, and
tend to manage weight by working out to incredible extremes.
Rob – a 24-year-old Chicago man who chose not to reveal his surname – is a typical case in point.
Unattainable: Little boys are using the unrealistic body-types of action figure toys as role models
After being bullied aged 14 for being fat, Rob determined to attain the same lean,
athletic physique as his tormentors.
He stopped eating junk food, started doing 100
pushups a night, spent hours in the weight room and joined his high school cross-country team.
He began skipping meals and doing as much as six hours of exercise every day in order to hush internal voices telling him he would otherwise be fat.
He said: 'I wanted to make a name for myself, be something. Working harder than anyone else in the group made me better. That's what I thought.'
At 5ft 7in, Rob soon weighed less than 100lb.
His grueling exercise regime led to brittle bones, calcium loss and stress fractures, at which point he continued to do laps – around his parents' house using crutches.
Extreme: Some men manage their weight by doing as much as six hours of exercise per day
Through counselling and a rare males-only eating disorder programme near Milwaukee, Rob was eventually diagnosed with a condition known as 'eating disorder not otherwise specified', and changed his habits.
He now works out cautiously, only allowing himself to slow-walk as cardiovascular exercise.
He said: 'Sometimes there's the urge to hurry up. It's a little battle. I usually win.'
While eating disorders are potentially lethal – some 5 per cent
of victims die from medical issues, suicide or substance abuse, according to the American Journal
of Psychiatry – Daniel Le Grange, director of the University of Chicago Medical Center's eating disorder programme,
said studies in male sufferers are still so
scarce there is no good data about chances of long-term recovery.