Homosexuality: A Risk Factor for Eating Disorders in Men

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2003 Volume 13, Number 6
©2002 Gürze Books

Although most cases of eating disorders are reported among women, 10% to 15% of eating disorders occur in men. When researchers look for symptoms shared by both sexes, they find similarities in age at onset, body image dissatisfaction, and methods of attempting to control weight. The one risk factor that is unique for men is homosexuality, and from 10% to 42% of men with eating disorders have identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual (European Eat Disord Rev 1999; 7:1).

A recent study by Pamela K. Keel and Christopher J. Russell of Harvard University has indicated that homosexuality is a specific risk factor for development of eating disorders among men (Int J Eat Disord 2002;31:300). A group of 122 men (58 homosexual men and 64 heterosexual men) were recruited from the community. The questionnaire asked about age, height, weight, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, occupation, relationships and comfort level with sexual orientation; participants also completed six standardized questionnaires including the Beck Depression Inventory and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.

What the researchers found

The main finding was that the homosexual men had greater body dissatisfaction and higher levels of bulimic and anorexic symptoms than did the heterosexual men. Disordered eating among the men was highly correlated with depression and poor self-esteem. While levels of femininity did not correlate significantly with any measure of eating pathology, lower levels of masculinity were associated with depression, worse self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. Men who were less comfortable with their sexual orientation reported more depression, worse self-esteem, more symptoms of anorexia, and greater body dissatisfaction.

There has been much speculation about why gay men are more prone to develop eating pathology than heterosexual men. One hypothesis surrounds gender role identification. However, unlike earlier studies, this study did not support identification with femininity as a factor that contributed to a specific association between homosexuality and eating disorders in men.

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