Study: Minority Boys at Risk for Eating Disorders
> 11/26/2007 11:35:40 AM

If asked to picture someone with an eating disorder, in your mind's eye you will probably see a young, white, girl. White girls are the most at risk for eating disorders, but a recent study has provided further evidence that eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of race and gender. The study, led by Y. May Chao of Wesleyan University, focused on the the prevalence of weight control behaviors used by teens while also examining the link between race and eating disorders. Although girls were still more likely to engage in weight control behaviors, the number of boys, especially minority boys, engaging in these behaviors increased over time, putting them at risk for eating disorders.

The researchers used data
from the the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), a nationally representative survey of high school students conducted every two years, to examine the incidence of weight control behaviors used by U.S. teens. The results show that among girls, dieting and the use of diet products increased between 1995 and 2005. Among boys, however, all methods of weight control (dieting, use of diet products, purging, exercise, and vigorous exercise) increased. Overall, females remain more at risk for eating disorders than males, but because males often do not seek help and because many people believe only girls can develop eating disorders, males with eating disorders are less likely to receive treatment. The researchers speculate that media coverage of slim and muscular men has increased, putting more pressure on boys and teens to achieve an unrealistic ideal.

The researchers also examined the link between weight control behaviors and race, focusing on whites, blacks, and Hispanics. They found that white females were the most at risk for engaging in weight control behaviors. Male minorities, however, were more likely than their white counterparts to engage in weight control behaviors, and Hispanics were the most at-risk male group. Because of the stereotype that only white girls develop eating disorders, minority boys may be overlooked and go undiagnosed. It is also possible that the symptoms of eating disorders vary depending on gender and racial background. The symptoms of a white girl with an eating disorder may be very different from the symptoms of a Hispanic boy. Future research should focus on boys, and especially minority boys, to create a more comprehensive picture of those most at risk.

Unfortunately, boys are often more reluctant to seek treatment than girls, and preventative measures should include boys as well as girls. Further research is necessary to better understand the risk factors associated with eating disorders and discover why minority boys are more likely to engage in weight control behaviors. By raising awareness about eating disorders and the fact that eating disorders can affect anyone, we can help those who have never been diagnosed to seek help.

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