Barriers for male eating disorder sufferers must fall, says charity Beat during Men’s Health Week

Posted 11/06/2018

Male sufferers of eating disorders have spoken out about the barriers they faced to getting treatment, as part of a campaign raising awareness of the illnesses for Men’s Health Week. Men and boys make up 25% of people with an eating disorder, but the UK’s eating disorder charity Beat says only 14% of those seeking help from them are males.

New research published last week shows that doctors receive less than two hours of training on eating disorders during their four to six years of undergraduate study. This means they are unequipped to recognise and provide appropriate referrals for the illnesses.

The situation is especially bad for male sufferers, as under-trained doctors may not recognise that men can and do get eating disorders. Research by Beat shows that males have to wait, on average, 3 times longer than women – a total of 28 weeks – between first visiting their GP and getting a referral. Men have told Beat that GPs explicitly say getting a diagnosis of anorexia will be hard as a male, even when they themselves can see the illness.

This is despite the fact that nearly a third of a million males have an eating disorder in the UK.

It is impossible to say accurately how many men sufferer from an eating disorder as they may either not recognise their own illness, or not admit it, because of the misunderstanding and stigma that surrounds the conditions in men.

This is compounded by the fact that many of the signs of an eating disorder, such as over-exercise, can be seen as typically male behaviours. One sufferer, Tommy, said that “consciously I had no idea about eating disorders so I never for one minute thought I had one, especially as a male and athlete.”

This can lead to dramatic consequences. Tommy revealed that he had been seeing his GP for more than three years about his loss of weight, but it took his falling into a coma for three months due to potassium deficiency for him to receive a diagnosis of anorexia and get treatment.

Tommy said, “I feel GPs aren’t educated enough on the subject of males with eating disorders, as they believe it’s primarily a female illness […] More needs to be done on GP training and awareness.”

Beat’s Chief Executive Andrew Radford said, “We need to challenge the stigma and misunderstanding that surround male eating disorders. Raising awareness is key, but we also need more and better training for doctors so they are equipped to recognise the illnesses and make appropriate referrals.

“Men with eating disorders face particular challenges, but help is available and recovery is possible. Beat’s helpline service is open every day of the year, and runs support groups where men can speak to their peers about their problems and their recovery.”

Notes to editors

Contact information:

Jamie Osborn | media@beateatingdisorders.org.uk | 01603 753316