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Exploring eating disorders across the gender spectrum

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Eating disorders do not discriminate; they can affect people of any age, race, gender or sexual orientation.

One of the more popular myths about eating disorders is that they are only found in young females. Current research suggests for every 10 females, one male is diagnosed with an eating disorder; however, many boys and young men may be reluctant to reach out for help or admit there is a problem due to the stereotypes that exist.

Dr.  Jennifer Coelho, a psychologist with the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program at BC Children's Hospital, is currently performing research that will help us better understand how eating disorders affect young people across the gender spectrum, with the goal of helping them overcome challenges to recovery and create treatment plans tailored to their individual needs.

"Fewer than 10 per cent of people admitted to eating disorder treatment centers are males, but research suggests the actual prevalence of males with eating disorders is significantly higher," said Dr. Coelho. "Given girls and women are more likely to enter treatment for their eating disorders, the vast majority of eating disorders research has focused on females."

Dr. Coelho had performed a study a few years ago looking at males who were admitted to the inpatient eating disorders unit at BC Children's and found 80 per cent reported over exercise as a symptom. Doctors are now using this information to recognize eating disorders in boys and men, but she says this is just the beginning. There is still lots to learn about the symptoms of eating disorders in males (or those who identify as males), how the conditions progress and how many clients recover.

Dr. Coelho's current study is inviting all boys and young men admitted to BC Children's programs for eating disorders treatment (including the Looking Glass Residence) to fill out questionnaires about their symptoms. They will track participants' physical health during treatment and conduct interviews on their experiences of having an eating disorder, getting diagnosed and going through treatment and recovery. They've also invited a group of females and a group of people who don't identify with their assigned sex at birth to participate in this study.

To learn more about eating disorders programs and resources, visit:

To learn more about research happening at BC Children's, visit the BC Children's Research Institute


BC Children's Hospital; BC Children's Hospital Research Institute; mental health
Research; Children's Health
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