Body Image, Eating Attitudes, and Psychological Traits in Male Adolescents

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February 2006 Volume 17, Number 1
©2006 Gürze Books

Males and females with anorexia nervosa (AN) seem very similar in terms of clinical characteristics, and psychiatric and psychosocial comorbidity. However, a team of Spanish researchers recently reported a finding that was unique to male teens with AN: the patients had a different perception of their body image than did male teens from the general population.

Araceli Gila, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Barcelona, Spain, recently studied body image in 30 male anorexics, 11 to 18 years of age, who were compared with 421 males of the same general age range from the general population (J Adoles Health 2005;36:221). The researchers were particularly interested in body image and its relationships with psychological and behavioral traits. They attempted to analyze the perception of different parts of the body among both groups of boys and its relationship with abnormal eating attitudes and other psychological traits related to AN.

Two testing methods were used

The researchers used the Subjective Body Dimensions Apparatus (SBDA) and the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) to compare perceptions of body image in the two groups. The SBDA is a test that measures the subject’s estimation of individual body sites. In its final stage it provides a simultaneous representation of several body sites and thus provides a global silhouette of the patient. The Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI) was also administered to 19 AN patients and 200 boys from the comparison group.

Both groups overestimated their body size

Only the Body Dissatisfaction scale on the EDI was statistically significantly different between the two groups. In anorexic patients, the correlation between BMI and EAT scores was particularly high and negative.

Both groups of boys overestimated their body dimensions. Male adolescents from the general population overestimated all parts of their bodies, especially the thorax, waist, and hips. The anorexic patients overestimated their bodies to a greater degree than the control subjects, and emphasized their shoulders, hips, and thighs. The global percentage of overestimating in boys (14.8%) was not greatly different from that found in girls from the general population (11.5%).

The fact that male adolescents overestimated some body areas more than others may indicate that they are concerned with specific areas of their body. The boys with AN also overestimated all parts of the their body but their overestimations were only significantly greater than the comparison group in the shoulders, hips, and thighs, which indicated that anorexic boys are particularly concerned with these areas.

An aspect that may help in treatment

Overestimation of certain parts of the body does not constitute a global idea of an individual’s body image, according to the authors. If this can be studied separately, it is an aspect that can be addressed in treatment and may therefore help in the specific cognitive therapy of the patient. In the AN group, the lower the BMI, the greater the body overestimation at all sites. This finding demonstrated that overestimation in males with AN may be pathological, just as in their female counterparts. In addition, among the males with AN, abnormal eating attitudes and drive for thinness correlated significantly with overestimation of different parts of the body, just as in studies of female AN patients.

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