Men who experience high levels of sexual harassment are much
more likely than women to induce vomiting and take laxatives and diuretics in
an attempt to control their weight, according to a surprising finding by
Michigan State University researchers.
Their study is one of the first to examine the effects of
sexual harassment on body image and eating behaviors in both women and men. As
expected, women reported more sexual harassment and greater overall weight and
shape concerns and disordered eating behaviour (such as binge eating) in
response to that harassment, said lead author NiCole Buchanan.
But Buchanan said she was stunned to learn that men are
significantly more likely to engage in purging “compensatory” behaviours at
high levels of sexual harassment. The study is the first to make that
“Traditionally, there has been a misperception that men are
not sexually harassed,” said Buchanan, associate professor of psychology. “And
while women do experience much higher rates of sexual harassment, when men
experience these kinds of behaviours and find them distressing, then you see
the same types of responses you see in women – and in the case of compensatory
behaviours, even more so.”
Buchanan and colleagues surveyed 2 446 college-aged
participants – including 731 men – on their experiences with sexual harassment,
body image and eating behaviors. The study, online now, will appear in an
upcoming print issue of the research journal Body Image.
Sexual harassment comes in many different forms, including
peer-on-peer harassment, and can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression,
concerns about body image and dysfunctional eating.
Buchanan said there may be certain features of sexual
harassment that are particularly powerful in triggering purging behaviours in
males and that further research is needed to examine this possibility.
Eating disorders are increasing among men in the United
States, particularly younger men, yet the vast majority of prevention programs
are designed for girls and women, the study noted.
“Although boys and men have lower rates of weight/shape
concerns and eating disturbances, these issues are still significant and
warrant intervention,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan’s co-authors are doctoral students Brooke Bluestein
and Krystle Woods and former undergraduate students Alexa Nappa and Melissa