Men with eating disorders are failed because conditions are seen as 'women's illnesses', scientists claim

Some men said they did not know the symptoms of eating disorders, while one patient was told to "man up" by a doctor.

A perception that eating disorders are “women’s illnesses” is stopping young men from receiving the help and support they need, according to a new study.

While some figures estimate that males account for a quarter of eating disorder cases, young men who suffer from diseases including anorexia are “underdiagnosed, undertreated and underresearched,” according to a study published in the online journal ‘BMJ Open’ on Wednesday.

To make their findings, scientists interviewed 39 young people aged 16 to 25, including 10 men, who they found from patient organisations, social media, and via healthcare professionals.

Participants were questioned about their experiences when they were diagnosed with an eating disorder, as well as the treatment and support they received after.

The idea that eating disorders only affect young women was cited as one of the main reasons that men go undiagnosed.

Researchers explain that young men did not know that: obsessively counting calories, exercising and weighing themselves excessively, or purging themselves were behaviours symptomatic of eating disorders.

One young man, who described himself as “one of the lads,” said he thought eating disorders only affected “fragile teenage girls."

This was compounded by the fact that friends, family and teachers were very slow to recognise that the men were suffering from eating disorders - instead viewing shifts in behaviour as personal choices.

It was only when the young men reached a crisis point or were admitted to A&E that they realised they had a disease, they said.

Read more: Social media to blame for soaring eating disorder rate
Eating Disorders Awareness Week: students still want support

But, when men were diagnosed, the situation did not improve. Participants reported long waiting times for specialist referral, and were sometimes misdiagnosed. In one case, a young man was told “to man up” by a doctor.

They also complained that information on eating disorders was insufficient in general, but help for men specifically was particularly sparse.

"Our findings suggest that men may experience particular problems in recognising that they may have an eating disorder as a result of the continuing cultural construction of eating disorders as uniquely or predominantly a female problem,“ said Dr Ulla Raisanen and Dr Kate Hunt from the University of Oxford and University of Glasgow teams who ran the study.

Eating disorders cost the NHS between £50 and £70 million, while anorexia has the highest death rate of all adolescent psychiatric conditions, the study points out.

Russell Delderfield, Trustee of the national charity Men Get Eating Disorders, wrote on The Conversation: “What are we doing to change the fact that we still have a society that has raised men to believe that there can even be such a thing as a feminine mental health condition? Slightly scarier still, why is having a “women’s illness” such a bad thing?”

“It’s important that more people learn that eating disorders are a men’s, as well as a women’s, issue, not least because prognosis is improved with early detection,” he added.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

    £50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

    Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Professional Services Firm - Oxford

    £21000 - £24000 per annum + 21 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Technical Support...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor