Rise in male eating disorders tip of iceberg: charity

Wed Jul 13, 2011 12:50pm EDT

(Reuters Life!) - British health service (NHS) figures showing a 66 percent rise in hospital admissions for men with eating disorders in England over the last 10 years are just the "tip of the iceberg," a UK charity said Wednesday.

More than a million people are affected by eating disorders in Britain and up to 20 percent of those are male, according to British eating disorders charity Beat.

An exact figure is difficult to ascertain due to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for an eating disorder and a failure to diagnose the illnesses in males, Beat said.

"The 66 percent increase in hospitalization of men in England with eating disorders is the tip of the iceberg. There are many others who find it difficult to acknowledge that they have the illness or to seek help," Beat said told Reuters in an emailed statement Wednesday.

"That, coupled with the fact that not all GPs (General Practitioners) recognize the symptoms in males shows that there are still many people unable to access the treatment they so desperately need."

The figures challenge the commonly held assumption that the illnesses like anorexia and bulimia only affect women. Cultural pressure to have the ideal body is among the many factors that can trigger eating disorders - and UK charities are keen to stress that this body dissatisfaction is not confined to women.

"Exercise is a major factor with eating disorders in men who can become obsessed with exercising every day. Males are under similar pressures to women nowadays to achieve that 'perfect shape'," Beat said.

The rise in the number of men with eating disorders is 'not a surprise' to Sam Thomas, founder and project leader of Men Get Eating Disorders Too, a UK charity.

"Men are subject to all kinds of different pressures. This rise could indicate an increased awareness of eating disorders among men, but it could also signal a genuine rise in the illnesses in males due to increasing pressure on men to look good, pressure in the workplace, and even financial worries," Thomas said.

"There are certainly many different factors involved and I think it's a combination of all of them."

There are three official categories of eating disorder - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). The onset of the illnesses generally take place during the mid-teens, though it has been known to begin in adulthood.

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