Young men may have unrecognized eating disorders

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"We think about a lot of disorders and diseases that look different in males than females," Field said. "This is another example and we need to remember that."

"These are not likely to be healthy behaviors," Dr. Evelyn Attia said. She is a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

"The overwhelming number of people - often young men - who are thinking about needing to change their body by using some of these supplements is certainly something the family should know about and we as clinicians should be aware of," Attia, who was not involved in the new study, said.

She added that those behaviors and the use of those supplements should be tracked for future research. At this point, she said, it's hard to say whether these behaviors are truly eating disorders.

Field said it would be unrealistic to expect young men and women not to be concerned about their weight or their bodies, but for some it's all they're concerned about.

"The images these teens are seeing of models don't even look like that," Field said. "They've been airbrushed and shaded … so everyone believes they have unbelievable definition in their abs and arms."

The new research appeared in JAMA Pediatrics. The authors note that the survey's respondents were mostly white and middle class, which may limit the study's relevance to other populations.

Field suggested that doctors and parents should be aware of their patients' or children's attempts to change their bodies to make sure it's being done for the right reasons and in a healthy way.

"It's a good time to have that conversation," she said.

SOURCE: JAMA Pediatrics, online November 4, 2013.