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Depression and drug use risk rises as teen boys struggle with body image

When it comes to the effects of the media on body image, young women aren’t alone in the battle to feel “normal.” A new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics reveals that poor body image in teen boys can lead to a number of conditions and disorders.

Research on the effects of poor body image in women and girls are a dime-a-dozen. But in boys, the amount of research is lacking. As this latest study showed, however, boys sometimes struggle with similar problems related to how they look and self-acceptance.

Approximately one in every 10 eating disorders occur in men, according to the NY Daily News.

The researchers set out to determine how body image in boys can make them more at risk for dangerous eating disorders, depression, and drug addiction. What they found was that although boys also struggle with body image, they may be unhappy with different aspects than girls. Where girls are usually preoccupied with being too fat, boys are concerned with being too thin.

The researchers surveyed 5,527 boys between the ages of 12 and 18 for a period of 13 years beginning in 1999.

They found many of these boys had inaccurate views of their own weight –judging they were under- or overweight when in fact they were average. These distorted body images were linked to elevated symptoms of depression among the boys and into adulthood.

Just under 10 percent noted they were “highly concerned” with how muscular they were. Of the whole pool, 2 percent reported trying a supplement, steroid, or hormone to boost their muscularity. When the survey responses were isolated to those between the ages of 16 and 22, that figure rose to about 8 percent.

"The results from this study would suggest that males who are extremely concerned about their physiques are doing or using things that may or may not be healthy," said lead researcher Alison Field. "There are a whole range of products available online that we don't know if they're healthy or not. We know when a lot of them are tested, they're not what they're marketed to be."

In addition, 31 percent of the boys reported binging, purging, or both. Associated with the eating disorder bulimia, binging and purging is typically used as an extreme method of weight loss. The researchers surmise in the case of teen boys, binging is used more than purging, instead in an effort to gain weight.

"These are not likely to be healthy behaviors," said Dr. Evelyn Attia, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. "The overwhelming number of people - often young men - who are thinking about needing to change their body by using some of these supplements is certainly something the family should know about and we as clinicians should be aware of."

Attia, who was not involved with the study said that these unhealthy behaviors should be tracked for future research, to see how their effects may last long into adulthood.

We are all bombarded with images of perfection on a daily basis. From magazine ads to billboards, Internet advertising, and television commercials —men and women are faced with standards of beauty that are achieved only by a small percentage of the population and often with the help of plastic surgery, extreme lifestyles, good lighting, and photo editing. This study is just one more that exemplifies how these images can wreak havoc on anyone, no matter the gender.


Photo credit: Jon Clegg