When Men Are Dissatisfied with Their Bodies

Body image concerns among men point to increased risks of depression and substance use

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Typically, eating disorders and concerns about one's body image are thought to be mainly prevalent among girls and young women. But men are not immune to these problems.

A recent study found that boys and young men are more prone to depression and substance use if they have certain concerns about their body image.

Like many concerns among girls, some boys were preoccupied with being thin enough.

Others were primarily concerned with being muscular enough, or with being thin enough and muscular enough.

These attitudes appeared related to an increase in the boys' risk of using drugs, of binge drinking, or of experiencing symptoms of depression.

"Bring up any concerns about your physique with your family doctor."

The study, led by Alison E. Field, ScD, of the Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, looked at what mental and physical health risks might face males with symptoms related to possible eating disorders.

The researchers analyzed data from questionnaires filled out by 5,527 boys, aged 12 to 18.

The boys, from across the US, filled out the questionnaires once every one to three years from 1999 to 2010.

The researchers were specifically looking for whether the boys developed obesity, symptoms of depression, or use of drugs or binge drinking.

Approximately 9.2 percent of the respondents reported having great concerns about their muscularity but not engaging in any kind of behaviors related to bulimia, such as intentional vomiting.

Meanwhile, about 2.4 percent of the respondents had concerns about their muscularity and took either supplements, growth hormone products, or steroids to try to achieve their "ideal body."

In addition, about 2.5 percent were very concerned about being thin but did not show any signs of bulimia symptoms.

Another 6.3 percent expressed great concern about being thin and about their muscularity.

The researchers also identified 0.8 percent of the respondents who had symptoms of bulimia and 2.9 percent who had symptoms of binge eating disorder.

Almost a third of the respondents (31 percent) reported binge eating or intentionally vomiting or overeating infrequently but not on a regular or monthly basis.

The researchers then looked at whether any of the respondents in these different categories had higher or lower risk of mental health concerns.

The researchers found that boys who were especially concerned about being thin — but who were not concerned about muscularity — had 2.7 times greater odds of having depression symptoms, compared to boys without concerns about thinness.

Meanwhile, males who were overly concerned about both their muscularity and being thin were twice as likely to use drugs, compared to those without these body image concerns.

Similarly, the odds of binge drinking or drug use were twice as high for boys who were concerned about their muscularity and used supplements or other products to try to achieve their preferred body.

The researchers concluded that being muscular enough was a common concern among teen boys and young men.

"It is important to understand that preoccupation with body image is a reflection of low self-esteem and the internal sense of self-worth," Peter Strong, PhD, a registered mindfulness-based psychotherapist and author in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in this study.

"We must take steps to help males and females develop a more positive internal image of themselves, to learn to love themselves unconditionally," Dr. Strong said.

The researchers noted the importance of recognizing males at risk for these concerns.

"Males with these concerns who use potentially unhealthy products to improve their physique are at increased risk of adverse outcomes but may not be recognized by their healthcare providers as having a weight-related disorder because" they are male, the researchers wrote.

The study was published November 4 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 14, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013