Men with eating disorders are frequently being overlooked because people assume that conditions such as anorexia and bulimia are women’s problems, a new study has suggested.

Researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Glasgow questioned 39 16 to 25-year-olds, ten of whom were men, about their experiences of eating disorders.

It was found that young men with such conditions are “underdiagnosed, undertreated and under-researched”, despite making up around a quarter of cases.

In addition, many men felt under pressure to have the ‘perfect’ body, yet a large number were unaware of the symptoms and dangers of eating disorders.Apple and tape measure

Furthermore, one participant reported being told to “man up” by his GP after reporting food-related issues, while others said they assumed anorexia was something teenage girls got.

Writing in the journal BMJ Open, authors Dr Ulla Raisanen and Dr Kate Hunt warned: “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.”

They urged doctors and caregivers to challenge these misconceptions to improve the situation for male eating disorder sufferers.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Lisa Orban comments:

“There is a strong cultural misconception that only females suffer from eating disorders, but the simple fact is that men can and do develop these disorders. It is critical for healthcare professionals to recognize that eating disorders do not discriminate on the basis of gender.”

This article first appeared on ‘The British Psychological Society’ on 28 April 2014.

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