05/10/2013 05:35 pm ET Updated May 14, 2013

Male Eating Disorders Linked To Sexual Harassment, Study Finds


Men get sexually harassed too -- and these experiences can lead to harmful behaviors, according to a new study.

A research team led by NiCole Buchanan at Michigan State University found that men who had experienced sexual harassment were much more likely to purge than women who been sexually harrassed. Buchanan and her colleagues interviewed 2,446 college-age participants -- 731 of whom were men -- about their eating habits, body image attitudes and experiences with sexual harassment. Participants completed versions of three standard diagnostic tests -- the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire, Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory-II. The Sexual Experiences Questionnaire asked participants to report instances of harassment, defined as unwanted romantic attention, offensive sexual jokes or catcalling.

They found that male participants who had experienced a high level of sexual harassment -- measured by how many instances of harassment they reported -- were much more likely to engage in "compensatory behaviors" like purging or taking laxatives than women who had experienced that same level of sexual harassment.

In their paper, the researchers wrote that they were "surprised" by this finding, perhaps because women consistently report higher levels of disordered eating than men do -- and also because we don't often hear about men experiencing sexual harassment. However, research suggests that the number of men being diagnosed with an eating disorder is increasing. Also increasing is the number of men filing sexual harassment lawsuits with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- 16.3 percent of sexual harassment charges in 2011 were filed by men, compared to 11.6 percent in 1997.

Buchanan's study is the first to examine the link between sexual harassment and eating behaviors in men, though research from 2000 established a link between sexual harassment and eating disorders in women.

"Although boys and men have lower rates of weight/shape concerns and eating disturbances, these issues are still significant and warrant intervention," Buchanan said in a press release.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that NiCole Buchanan and her research team were affiliated with the University of Michigan. They are in fact affiliated with Michigan State University.



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