Sexual Harassment Linked to Eating Disorders in Men

By Sarah Beller 05/10/13

A new study finds a link between high levels of sexual harassment and bulimia in men.

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Men who experience "high levels" of sexual harassment are more likely to develop an eating disorder as a coping mechanism, according to a recent study in the journal Body Image. Researchers from Michigan State University surveyed 2,446 college-aged participants—including 731 men—on their experiences with sexual harassment, body image and eating behaviors. As expected, women reported more sexual harassment, greater overall weight and shape concerns, and more generally disordered eating behavior (such as binge eating). However, the study found men who had been harassed were significantly more likely than women to engage in specific "compensatory behaviors" (behaviors meant to "un-do" eating, like vomiting and laxative abuse) as a response. "Traditionally, there has been a misperception that men are not sexually harassed," says lead author NiCole Buchanan, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State. "And while women do experience much higher rates of sexual harassment, when men experience these kinds of behaviors and find them distressing, then you see the same types of responses you see in women—and in the case of compensatory behaviors, even more so." Eating disorders are on the rise among males in the United States, but are often ignored or misdiagnosed, and the vast majority of treatment prevention programs are designed for females. Says Buchanan: "Although boys and men have lower rates of weight/shape concerns and eating disturbances, these issues are still significant and warrant intervention."

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.