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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Young gay men and eating disorders

Posted in: Living Well
By Craig Young - 12th March 2009

Are young straight women the only ones at risk from eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and related conditions? No.

True, most eating disorder sufferers do tend to be young straight women, who suffer consequences like loss of menstrual periods or cardiovascular and reproductive health damage from their self-starvation. However, are younger gay men also at risk? In New Zealand, the issue appears to be little-discussed within LGBT youth groups and within LGBT health discussions, as more attention is focused on HIV/AIDS, other STIs, breast cancer and substance abuse.

However, it has been discussed in Australia. Sydney's DNA magazine has featured two such articles, and it is from these that I've obtained most of the information for this article.

According to available information from eating disorder treatment services in Australia and Great Britain's Specialist Health Services, anywhere from five to ten percent of people with eating disorders are male. Of young men with eating disorders, about twenty percent of this group are gay men. While anorexia is decreasing overall, other eating disorders like bulimic bingeing and vomiting, excessive diet and exercise and laxative abuse are rising over all. As for why gay men may be particularly at risk, look at the commercial scene and premium placed on youthful slenderness and musculature. Coupled with the internalised homophobia of low self-esteem, and one can see how young gay men might develop their own problems with eating disorders.

Furthermore, one shouldn't neglect issues like the scandalous underprovision of eating disorder treatment services in New Zealand. Even young straight women who are affected may often need to travel to Australia for treatment, because eating disorder services here are underequipped in terms of service funding, hospital bed occupancy, waiting lists and lack of synchronisation of mental health services. According to Christy Parker (Womens Health Action Trust, Auckland), only Canterbury DHB funds a service user NGO, the Eating Awareness Trust, although Auckland also has its own such group, the Eating Disorders Education Network. The Clark administration did manage to set forth policy options in a discussion document, A National Framework for Eating Disorders (2006).

It recommended localisation of services, although Parker questioned how local service improvements could occur without significant funding increases. As for young gay men with eating disorders, one must applaud DNA (and Britain's Gay Times too), for their serious debate over these issues. For the good of any young gay man who is suffering from eating disorders in potentially deadly silence, it is time that New Zealand gay men broke ours, sat down and debated the issue, and then we need to establish such services for those in need.

Strongly Recommended:

Christy Parker: "Community Based NGOs and the Future of Eating Disorder Services" Womens Health Update: 12.3 (September 2008): 2-3:

Shaun Wood: "Body and Soul" DNA 38 (March 2003): 49.

Mitchell Jordan: "Secret Mens Business" DNA 83 (December 2006): 28.

Craig Young - 12th March 2009