Physicians and researchers have surmised for decades that eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are far more common with women because women are more likely to diet throughout their lifetime. This stems from extreme societal pressures on women to have the “perfect” body and be in the “best” shape.

By the time girls reach puberty, they have been inundated with images and data telling them how they should look. Intense pressure is abundant from all mediums dictate that they should be thin. This pressure leads to poor body image, turmoil, stress, depression, role confusion, among many other issues that stoke the dieting fires. In time, for some girls, these risk factors are the basis for the development of an eating disorder. Because societal pressures are rampant for young women and girls, this disorder affects them in much more significant numbers.

While eating disorders can and do impact females and males, comparatively the numbers of males who are diagnosed with it are far less. Females in studies have shown more severe pathology.

Conversely, males present much younger than their female counterparts, with the average age being less than twelve-years-old. Females typically seek treatment by emergency interventions or to deal with comorbidities like mouth sores, stomach ailments, or other issues. Males tend to present with different complaints. Both sexes do not differ in the duration of their illness. Both will undergo many tests and procedures or require hospitalizations for other disorders like anxiety or behavioral disorders. Both sexes experience episodes of binging and purging.

In recent years, the prevalence of younger children suffering from an eating disorder is staggering. Although the onset is most typically documented in the prepubescent tween years or early adolescence, doctors are discovering it in children as young as seven-years-old. Researchers and medical professionals have not yet determined whether it’s become more prevalent because the numbers have grown or because they are better educated about the signs and symptoms. This leaves them to wonder if it’s a growing trend or a result of better education.

Eating habits change as children age. Society has grown more health conscious. People, in general, are paying more attention to their bodies and their health. As this wave of healthy eating expands, people are more cognizant of the food that’s going into their bodies and more vigilant about what they feed their families.

Eating disorders present differently per individual. On the same token, they perform differently between the sexes. While there are common symptoms, like refusal to eat, hiding or hoarding food, weight loss or failure to gain weight in a growing child, body image issues, thinning hair, or social withdrawal, there are often many differences. Some may be subtle, but the most important thing to remember is that you (parents, spouse, loved ones) don’t cause an eating disorder. Trust your instincts and be vigilant about getting answers. Females are emotional creatures but don’t forget that males also grapple with their emotions. While eating disorders may be more prevalent in females, don’t overlook the signs and symptoms in males.

By Ava Mallory