New NHS figures are showing a 66% increase in hospital admissions for men with eating disorders in England over the last decade, and this is believed to just be the ‘tip of the iceberg’, according to the UK eating disorder charity organization B-eat. These figures challenge the commonly held assumption that eating disorders, such as Anorexia and Bulimia are illnesses exclusive to women, although the reality is that poor body image and pressures to conform to the societal notion of a desirable body affects men and women alike.
As eating disorders commonly develop in adolescence, professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois, Barbara Fiese, stresses the importance of families eating together, as this is known to be safeguarding teen’s health and help prevent the onset of this serious psychological disorder.
Why are male eating disorders on the rise?
Ascertaining the precise reasons for this enormous rise in hospital admissions for men with eating disorders over the past decade is rather difficult. While part of the reason may be explained by the fact that some of the stigma attached to the disorder has decreased, encouraging more sufferers to seek help, eating disorders may in fact have become more prevalent. Regardless, it is believed that the reported numbers are far from an exhaustive account of the true prevalence picture, as shame and ignorance still prevent many from getting the help that they need.
Lack of awareness
Eating disorder organizations globally are pleading for increased awareness amongst GPs who are often the first to encounter people with eating disorders. Many GPs have not got sufficient knowledge on the disorder, and may therefore inadvertently fail to refer patients who present with less overt symptoms.
Early detection and preferably prevention is better than cure and as it is unlikely that people with eating disorders will themselves seek treatment or speak of their difficulty around food, it is imperative that loved ones, health professionals and health club staff members are equipped with sufficient awareness and knowledge of the disorder. As male eating disorders often revolve around excessive exercising gym staff could play a significant role in addressing behaviours that have become unhealthy and obsessive.
Professor Fiese, from University of Illinois proposes that families try to eat together at least three times a week, although more would be ideal. Her research has shown that teens who eat at least 5 meals a week with their families are 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating than those who don’t.
Eating disorders are becoming everyone’s responsibility, and while family messages and healthy role modelling in childhood will go a long way in safeguarding teens from pressures to go to extreme lengths to fit in, we can all do our bit by not only paying less attention to these cultural ideals, but by reaching out and showing our concern to those who need help.