Depression warning: Boys’ body image a growing problem


Body dissatisfaction in males is rapidly approaching the same levels as in females, the Butterfly Foundation warns, with new research from neuroscientists showing boys are much more likely to suffer depression if they are battling obesity.

"Male body image is just as complex an issue as female body image, one that requires much more research as we begin to understand it," Danni Rowlands, National Manager of Prevention Services at Butterfly, told The Courier-Mail.

"We need to pay more attention to male body image and the struggles boys may face when coming to terms with their 'imperfect' bodies. Just as today's society expects females to become thinner with statuesque features, boys, particularly in Western cultures, feel pressure to pump up their bodies and slim down, creating a combination of lean, bulky muscle," she said.

And a new study published in the Journal of Public Health, carried out by Swedish scientists, has found that boys with obesity were five times more likely to have depressive symptoms than boys in the normal weight range. This connection was not evident in girls.

The most recent Butterfly data shows that 40 per cent of males were not happy with their appearance compared to 46 per cent of females.

The organisation also highlights that half of boys aged 14 to 16 were found to be using muscle building protein supplements.


Male body image is just as complex an issue as female body image, researchers say.
Male body image is just as complex an issue as female body image, researchers say.


"Boys are subjected to different cultural messages about appearance that can increase their vulnerability to eating disorders. These include an idealised physical body shape that is lean and muscular and social norms that frame masculinity as about control and 'taking charge'. These features can mean that body image concerns or eating disorders among boys are overlooked or misdiagnosed by health care professionals," Ms Rowlands said.

The new international research found that all young people struggling with their weight are at greater risk of bullying.

This is backed by a recent Australian study which revealed that discrimination based on body size, shape or physical appearance was the most common type of discrimination, reported by one in five Australian teens at both age 14-15 and 16-17. It also indicated that the prevalence of body discrimination was especially high among overweight or obese teens (43 per cent.)

Preadolescent obese boys and girls are more likely to be victims of bullying because they deviate from appearance ideals.


Originally published as Depression warning: Boys' body image a growing problem