Males with eating disorders: Challenges for treatment and research

Arnold E. Andersen, John E. Holman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Males represent only 10 percent of eating disorder cases. This gender discrepancy is among the most extreme in psychiatry and medicine. Determining which differences in etiology and mechanism best explain the discrepancy presents an intellectual challenge. Beginning at about the third grade, boys and girls diverge in social development. Boys show significantly less desire to lose weight, express dissatisfaction with the upper rather than the lower body, and use dieting to achieve specific external goals rather than as a cultural norm. Males reach a significantly higher body mass index (BMI) than females do before they begin dieting (27.2 versus 24.2, p<.01). While overall treatment principles are similar, males in treatment require attainment of a different hormonal milieu (testosterone), attention to past and future sexual role, amelioration of perception of stigma, and preparation for return to male social roles. Males and females suffer comparable degrees of osteopenia and brain shrinkage during anorexia nervosa. The effectiveness of antidepressants in males with eating disorders (compared with that in females) has not been well studied. Male gender is not an adverse factor in short-term or long-term treatment outcome. Understanding the lower frequency of these illnesses in males may lead to more effective means of protecting girls from eating disorders and from the culturally induced distress about normal body size and shape that burdens adolescent development and adult life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-397
Number of pages7
JournalPsychopharmacology bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 20 1997


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Eating disorders
  • Etiology
  • Males

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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