A new study claims that gay or bisexual men are three times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder than heterosexual men.

The report, which was published in the April 2007 issue of International Journal of Eating Disorders, suggests that gay and bisexual men and women may generally be at far higher risk for conditions like bulimia.

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health brings to light a population-based study for the first time, which provides evidence of formal diagnoses based on established psychiatric criteria rather than just surveying those who have had some symptoms.

The study results showed that more than 15% of gay or bisexual men had at some time suffered anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder, or at least certain symptoms of those disorders compared with less than five percent of heterosexual men.

Although the findings in women reported no differences in rates of eating disorders between lesbian/bisexual women and heterosexual women, rates of eating disorders of lesbian/bisexual women did not differ significantly from gay/bisexual men.

This information suggests that gay women are not less likely to suffer from eating disorders as some previous researchers have suggested.

“It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders,” says Dr. Ilan Meyer an associate professor of clinical Socio-medical Sciences at the school who was the principle investigator in the study.

“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 after focusing on this theory Dr. Meyer and his team seemed to disprove the idea that the “gay image” was a reason behind the heightened rate of eating disorders.

“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.”

“This shows that there needs to be greater awareness of these problems among gay and bisexual men and women alike, as well as specific interventions to address the issues in this population,” the researchers conclude.

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