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Last Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Boys 'hit by body image pressure'
Boys and girls both suffered from body image problems
Boys and girls both suffered from body image problems
Pressure from peers and the media for boys to fit physical ideals can lead to eating disorders, a study suggests.

Magazine images of stick-thin models and comparisons with friends have long been thought to lead some young girls to disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

But a UK study of around 500 teenagers on perceived pressure from parents, siblings, friends and the media suggested boys were affected too.

The research is published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

For girls, it's about being very thin. For boys this was about being muscular in tone
Dr Emma Halliwell
Social psychologist at the Centre for Appearance Research

The study said: "While there has been considerable attention to factors predicting eating disordered behaviour among adolescent girls, much less has focused on adolescent boys."

This is despite the fact that the levels of body dissatisfaction exhibited by boys and girls with eating disorders are similar, it added.

The authors said they wanted to "address the gap in the literature" and look at what influences eating habits among male and female adolescents.

Lead author Dr Emma Halliwell, social psychologist at the University of the West of England's Centre for Appearance Research, said that while it might be assumed that boys will react similarly to girls when faced with this sort of peer pressure, it was important to show it scientifically.

She said: "Because there are rising levels of eating disorders amongst boys, we need to find out where we can aim our interventions."

The researchers looked at 507 adolescents aged 11-16 from a school in West Sussex. There were 250 girls and 257 boys.


They were asked about their perception of pressures to be thin, how they felt about cultural physical ideals, how they assessed themselves against their peers, and whether they were satisfied with their bodies.

They were also quizzed about their eating behaviour to see if they exhibited any disordered eating. This included extreme dieting, bingeing, vomiting after eating and obsessing about food.

Dr Halliwell said: "We found that the same sorts of factors were important for boys as they were for girls in terms of producing disordered types of eating."

She said boys and girls were both affected by peer pressure and by internalisation - the extent to which the adolescent believes living up to socio-cultural physical ideals is important.


"For girls, it's about being very thin. For boys this was about being muscular in tone," she added.

She said the main difference that emerged was that all girls viewed their bodies negatively when they compared themselves to their friends, while only boys who thought they were very overweight experienced negative associations.

Deanne Jade, of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, was surprised that the research suggested boys were succombing to similar pressures about their body image as girls.

She said: "It's symptomatic not just of body pressures; it surely springs from the fact that in today's visual culture the domains that influence our self worth are increasingly limited.

In addition, "The difference between what's deemed OK and not OK in these areas is very narrow now.

"This means that people are now judging themselves harshly in terms of weight and that seems to be infecting boys too."



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