Body-image issues are common among young women. An abundance of research has focused on the relationship between body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and eating patterns in adolescent and young adult women. Less attention has been given to this issue in young men, however. Male college students are particularly vulnerable to problems relating to eating and body image. College campuses are populated by men of all shapes and sizes, and the pressure to belong and be liked can cause them to hold themselves to unrealistic physical ideals.
Extremely low body-fat percentages and muscular physiques are common goals that young men aspire to. However, achieving these results can lead young men to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and extreme exercise habits. In addition, many such young men are at risk for depression and suicide. Because rates of depression are disproportionately high on college campuses, Joel R. Grossbard of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington wanted to determine if depression was a positive or negative influence on eating issues. He also examined whether this relationship differed in college men when compared to college women.
For his study, Grossbard evaluated online surveys from 669 college students and examined levels of depression, body dissatisfaction, and general health behaviors. He found that for men and women, low levels of depression were linked to higher levels of body dissatisfaction and eating issues. Perhaps surprisingly, high levels of depression moderated body dissatisfaction and problem eating. When he compared the male and female participants, Grossbard found that eating issues were linked to thinness and muscularity aspirations more often in men than in women. Grossbard found also that men who have high body ideals tend to view psychological help as a sign of weakness, which puts them at further risk for depression and eating and body-image issues. “Therefore, interventions that address maladaptive cognitions about help-seeking and support the use of problem-focused coping strategies may enhance engagement in campus treatment services for depression and disordered eating,” Grossbard said.
Grossbard, J. R., Atkins, D. C., Geisner, I. M., Larimer, M. E. (2012). Does depressed mood moderate the influence of drive for thinness and muscularity on eating disorder symptoms among college men? Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028913
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