When one thinks of eating disorders, it instantly conjures up images of young girls starving themselves to live up to some impossible standard of size. The truth is, it is not only females who suffer from these maladies but men as well. While almost everybody will acknowledge the fact, that yes, men can indeed suffer from eating disorders, they remain an underrepresented group.
This is an area which was in need of attention, as it appears men are more like to develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol under these conditions. The research paper was published in General Hospital Psychiatry and investigated the differences in the biological, psychological and social factors of Binge Eating Disorder, between men and women. Binge Eating Disorder is compulsively overeating and individuals who suffer from this disorder feel like there is little they can do to resist this urge. Binge eating sessions can last a couple of hours or entire days.
The study consisted of 190 obese participants in total, all of whom were diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and 49 of these participants were men. There was a strict criterion to be met before any of the participants were allowed to continue as a research subject, so all the results you see are not affected in any way by some outlier of mental or physical health.
The Psyco-Social Perspective
If you think that the needs of men facing these illnesses go unappreciated because men simply aren’t as likely to admit that they need help, you are only half right. The truth is, there is not a large difference between the number of men and women who report this illness, 2.5% and 3.0% respectively. While it is true that men don’t seem to have an issue admitting to this problem, it appears that they’re usually less likely to seek medical help. This highlights one of several social factors that differentiate men from women.
Women were more likely to rank as obese earlier in life, and attempt dieting earlier as well, while men would usually resort to vigorous exercise before women. What are especially interesting about this study are not the differences but the similarities. In the words of Dr. Udo, “obese women and men with BED in this study were strikingly similar in most developmental/ historical variables pertaining to weight and dieting”.
For instance, there was no difference between men and women in areas such as stress and depression which are symptoms that are normally associated with women. Another similarity was in the area of self-control, where deficiencies are most often associated with men. From a psychological standpoint, it appears that men and women are more or less equivalent to one another.
The Biological Perspective
When researchers began to delve into the biological effects Binge Eating Disorder was having on men and women, the differences became startlingly apparent. Men were significantly worse than women in all metabolic and biological measurements across the board. Men had much higher waist circumference by about 4 inches on average but that is the least worrying number in the data.
Men also tended to have higher heart rates, higher blood pressure, and men’s fasting glucose levels were dramatically higher than women’s at 122.1 compared to 100.5. HDL or “good cholesterol” levels were lower in men while LDL or “bad cholesterol” was much higher. Triglyceride levels in men were 156.4 compared to 113.9 in women. Lastly, 57% of men compared to 31% of women, met the diagnostic criteria for Metabolic Syndrome.
Translating the Data
I just bombarded you with some numbers which I can assure you are cause for worry, so what do they mean exactly? In summary, those numbers translate to increased risk of some predictable ailments such as heart attack, diabetes and atherosclerosis but there are many other diseases you may be unaware of. Higher cholesterol levels put individuals at an increased risk of thing such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, fatty liver disease, and hemorrhagic stroke for which there is few treatment options. I know this firsthand, because I myself have researched the effects of hypertension and hemorrhagic stroke.
The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Study
This was a fascinating research project and one that will hopefully lend hand to jump starting the awareness this cause so desperately needs. While this study certainly did its share for making the public more aware of the dangers presented to men with eating disorders, and the frequency of it, it is not without its limitations, as minor as they may be.
There was a little bias with this study, due to the fact that it was a clinical study and individuals who volunteered to take part were obviously a little more motivated to correct their issues. That being said, this study did not discriminate subjects based on ethnicity which was an excellent opportunity to view these health issues in the African American and Hispanic communities, as these groups often go without research in this field.
Hope for the Future?
It is my hope that research such as this can aid in the push for awareness of these illnesses and perhaps allow men to feel a little more comfortable seeking help when it is needed most. This is an issue that has gone far too long with not nearly enough intervention and social perception and expectations can play a large role in that problem.
Dr. Hudson of Harvard Medical School also investigated this phenomenon in 2007 and concluded that eating disorders are a public health concern that is often associated with role impairment and for that reason, is being under treated.