Eating Disorders Often Unexamined Among Boys, Minorities
> 5/14/2007 4:03:01 PM

Because researchers often follow the common belief that the vast majority of eating disorder patients are white, teenage girls, their work has not properly considered the issue among the male and minority populations, according to new studies.

While many may think of overeating or binge eating as more typical manifestations of the disorder in boys, they also suffer from anorexia and bulimia just like girls, often with the same precipitating factors: childhood problems with weight, pressure to excel in athletics, the pervasiveness of media influence. Researchers interviewing more than 100 boys who'd gone to local hospitals to be treated for eating disorders found that they were all in need of serious treatment and recovery, their problems every bit as serious as those experienced by girls. But the effects of their disorders were less obvious: researchers found that, among the boys affected by the condition, body weight was much closer to the standard for each individual's height. On average, these patients registered weights amounting to 95% of their ideal size. Medical practice requires that an individual be at 85% of his or her ideal body weight or below to qualify as suffering from an eating disorder. In light of this study, the number may need to be revised when applied to boys. Researchers estimate that 10 percent of those suffering from eating disorders are male, but the number may be higher.

Race also plays a part in both the prevalence of eating disorders and the changes in self-perception that they create. Other studies found that positive body image corresponded, in varying degrees, with high self esteem in all teenage subjects except black males. In keeping with popular stereotypes, white girls were most affected by body image, as those with a positive opinion of their own bodies were more than seven times as likely to register high levels of self-confidence on subsequent surveys. Researchers were unsure what to make of this result, theorizing that young black males are particularly resistent to the endless stream of media images highlighting lean bodies at least in part because many of the same ads are not geared toward them. Obesity is also slightly more common in the black community, and studies have revealed that black men are much less likely to recognize their own weight problems, even after being told by their doctors that they are overweight; these facts may account for some of the discrepancies seen in the study.

Eating disorders are also, apparently, a serious problem in the American Indian community. One of the most striking findings of a survey aimed at visitors to an eating disorder website was that, among the 13 American Indians surveyed, nearly 50% had been hospitalized at least once for an eating disorder. Only 13% of the white participants had sought the same treatment. This sample, of course, is extremely small, but other studies have also indicated that weight problems and obsessions with body image are more common among Native Alaskan and American Indian women than those of any other ethnicity. As a social group, they have clearly not been studied sufficiently.

The fact remains that eating disorders are a persistent menace throughout our population and that they should be considered as possible sources of health problems among all patients regardless of gender or racial background - particularly in the adolescent/young adult years. White females, more subject to media influence, make up the majority of those suffering from eating disorders, but the disease does not discriminate, and we should by no means neglect those who make up a smaller percentage of the affected whole.

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