A new study, said to be the first of its kind, claims that gay and bisexual men are more likely than heterosexual men to suffer from eating disorders.

The survey, which has been published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, was conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The authors, Dr Ilan H. Meyer and Dr Matthew Feldman, compared one hundred and twenty six heterosexuals with 388 gay and bisexual men and women who were sampled from New York residents.

The results show that gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher claim of eating disorders than heterosexual men. More than 15 percent of gay or bisexual men said that they had at some time suffered anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or some other kind of eating disorder. The figure among heterosexual men was less than 5 percent.

Interestingly there were no differences found in eating disorder prevalence between lesbian and bisexual women and heterosexual women. Around ten percent of lesbian and bisexual women and 8 percent of heterosexual women reported some kind of history of eating disorder.

“It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders,” says Dr Meyer – one of the study’s authors. “One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centred focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorised about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.”

However, upon further investigation, the scientists found that there was little difference between gay and bisexual men who are involved or closer to the gay community than those who are not affiliated with the gay community.

“Even gay and bisexual men who participate in gay gyms, where body-focus and community values regarding attractiveness would be heightened, did not have higher rates of eating disorders than those gay and bisexual men who participated in non-gay gyms or who did not participate in a gym at all,” observes Dr. Meyer. “This suggests that factors other than values and norms in the gay community are related to the higher rates of eating disorder among these men.”

The authors concluded that more research should be undertaken to understand the causes of the high prevalence of eating disorders among gay and bisexual men.

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