More adolescent boys, young adult men struggling with muscle dysmorphia

TORONTO — It’s no secret that societal expectations can have an impact on young people and how they view themselves. As a result, young boys and men are engaging in risky behaviors like strenuous muscle-building exercises and steroids in order to fit into the standard of being lean and muscular. For many, there is the mindset that they are never big enough or strong enough. The dangerous condition is better known as muscle dysmorphia.

“Consistent with prior research, we found that boys and men presented with greater symptoms and behaviors of muscle dysmorphia,” says lead author Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, MSW, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, in a media release. “This finding continues to emphasize that boys and men are influenced by and are striving for a muscular body and experiencing psychological and social distress as a result.”

The team conducted their work by analyzing over 2,000 participants, drawing data from the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors. They specifically found that one in four young boys and young adult men were clinically at risk for developing muscle dysmorphia. Additionally, symptoms of it were more commonly noted in those who reported steroid use, which are a dangerous alternative for quickly putting on muscle mass.

The study also looked at differences among sexual identities and racial/ethnic groups. White and Middle Eastern or South Asian participants were more likely to show symptoms of dysmorphia. Participants that identified sexually as something other than heterosexual also showed more symptoms.

“Overall, our findings emphasize that many young people are striving for muscularity, resulting in significant levels of distress, which counters popular narratives that only thinness-oriented body image concerns and behaviors are problematic,” says Ganson. “We need to incorporate muscle dysmorphia symptoms into future conversations around body image and eating disorders, particularly given the likely rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The team also mentions that there is a need for greater awareness among those in healthcare on this topic and how it may present, in order to improve assessment and intervention strategies. In society, there is ample research and available resources for body dysmorphia geared toward women and girls, but not as much for boys and men. As such, they agree that there should be more of an effort to raise public health awareness and start prevention campaigns that include muscle dysmorphia as well.

The findings are in the journal Body Image.

About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, with next steps being completion of a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center where she currently is gaining experience with various populations and areas of medical nutrition such as Pediatrics, Oncology, GI surgery, and liver and renal transplant. Shyla also has extensive research experience in food composition analysis and food resource management.

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  1. Every young boy wants to be muscular. When I was a kid in 1960, I saw a Joe Weider course coupon on the back of a comic book, talked my Mom into loaning me the money, and I was off. One course per week for six weeks. Didn’t do much to transform me into Arnold in six weeks but it did set the course for working out for the rest of my life.
    Most kids I see at the Y today, are doing the same thing. Very few are doing steroids but I’m sure a lot use protein powder…as I did.
    Boys want to be bigger and stronger and always have. It’s in our DNA.

    This ‘study’ is just another avenue for progressives to emasculate the males of the world.

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