Gay and bisexual men may be at far higher risk for eating disorders than heterosexual men, according to a study. In the first population-based study of its kind, the// researchers found that gay and bisexual men have higher rates of eating disorders.
Researchers Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, associate professor of clinical Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health and principal investigator, and Matthew Feldman, PhD, of the National Development and Research Institutes and first author, surveyed 516 New York City residents; 126 were straight men and the rest were bisexual men and women.
According to the study results, more than 15 percent of gay or bisexual men had at some time suffered anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder, or at least certain symptoms of those disorders -- a problem known as a subclinical eating disorder, compared with less than five percent of heterosexual men. In contrast, sexual orientation did not seem to influence the risk of eating disorder symptoms among women. Just below 10 percent of lesbian and bisexual women and eight percent of heterosexual women had ever reported having a subclinical eating disorder.
Despite the interest in the question of eating disorder in lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, until now studies used measures of body dissatisfaction or symptoms of eating disorders, which may suggest the presence of an eating disorder, but does not assess diagnoses. This population-based study for the first time provides evidence of formal diagnoses based on established psychiatric criteria.
"It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders," says Dr. Meyer. "One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men's community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image."
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