Eating disorders and body image issues are typically associated with girls, particularly teenagers. However, a new survey has revealed that teenage boys are just as concerned about diet and exercise as girls, with as many as 55% of eight-18 year olds saying they would change their diet in order to ‘look better’. These findings have highlighted the lack of awareness around boys’ body image issues, and the difficulties they face seeking help and support.


Changing perceptions of eating disorders

The surveyPicture of Health, was carried out by think-tank Credos, polling 1,005 boys across primary and secondary schools about their attitudes towards body image. More than half of the boys polled (56%) saw eating disorders as an issue affecting both boys and girls, as well as the topics of dieting and extreme exercising. Meanwhile, 80% were conscious of image manipulation by the media, with 41% of them saying they agreed that the way men are portrayed in images in the media was ‘unrealistic’. 67% of them then went on to say that it was unacceptable for brands to use digital techniques to alter the body shapes of models used to promote their products.


Difficulty finding support

Whilst boys were able to acknowledge that body image was an issue and one they were concerned about, many found it difficult to find someone to talk to about their concerns. For example, 56% felt that they struggled to talk to their teachers about their issues, whilst 29% struggled to discuss their issues with their parents. Much of this is down to the cultural environment where boys tend not to discuss their feelings, but doing so means that parents and teachers are unaware of any existing problems.

The survey found that boys felt pressure from a number of sources including social media, friends, celebrities and advertising. They were shocked that male models were also victims of airbrushing, mostly associating it with images of females.


New initiatives to help deal with body image

The report featured a number of recommendations to help address the issue of body image amongst boys, including providing education and advice for boys, their parents and their teachers to help identify extreme body issues. It also called for more awareness around digital enhancement around advertising, and for more diverse body types to be used in advertising.

The report comes alongside a new media literacy toolkit, Media Smart, a scheme supported by the government which aims to teach children about advertising, how it’s made and how it can affect our perceptions. It’s hoped that this initiative will empower young people to become more critical of advertising and to not let it affect their self-perception.


Advice on dealing with eating disorders

If you are concerned that you may have an eating disorder, or suspect that someone you know is suffering, there is some help and advice available to you in order to get the right treatment. In many cases, acknowledging that a problem exists is the first step towards getting help, and ensuring that treatment begins as soon as possible. For more information about eating disorders, visit you local GP surgery or head to the NHS Choices website, with has some extensive resources around eating disorders and treatment.