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Are Men With Eating Disorders More Likely to Be Involved in Sexual Harassment?

First Posted: May 09, 2013 10:22 AM EDT
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Researchers from Michigan State University show that men who experience high levels of sexual harassment are more likely than women to induce vomiting and take laxatives and diuretics in an attempt to control their weight.

This study is one of the few to examine the effects of sexual harassment on body image and eating behaviors in both sexes. As expected, women reported more sexual harassment and greater overall weight and shape concerns and disordered eating behavior (such as binge eating) in response to that harassment, said lead author NiCole Buchanan, according to a press release.

However, Buchanan said she was stunned to learn that men are significantly more likely to engage in purging or similar activities when high levels of sexual harassment are involved. The study is the first to make that connection.

"Traditionally, there has been a misperception that men are not sexually harassed," said Buchanan, associate professor of psychology. "And while women do experience much higher rates of sexual harassment, when men experience these kinds of behaviors and find them distressing, then you see the same types of responses you see in women - and in the case of compensatory behaviors, even more so."

Buchanan and colleagues surveyed 2,446 college-aged participants - including 731 men - on their experiences with sexual harassment, body image and eating behaviors.

Buchanan believes that certain features of sexual harassment are particularly powerful in triggering purging behaviors in males and needs further research to examine the possibility.

Eating disorders are increasing among men in the United States, particularly younger men, yet the vast majority of prevention programs are designed for girls and women, the study noted.

"Although boys and men have lower rates of weight/shape concerns and eating disturbances, these issues are still significant and warrant intervention," Buchanan said.

The findings for the study can be found online in the journal Body Image

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