New Psychology Study Reveals Prevalence of Binge Eating in Men
A recent study published by Professor of Psychology Ruth Striegel in the September 2011 issue of International Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that in a workplace environment, binge eating is almost as prevalent among men as it is with women. She claims people tend to think that men have less severe eating disorders than women. With the study, she set out to show that men have just as much difficulty with eating disorders, and the health problems that result from them, as women do.
“The point was to show that there are relatively few, if any, meaningful differences,” Striegel said. “More importantly, it was to describe what it looks like when men do have binge eating problems.”
A colleague approached Striegel asking for assistance with analyzing existing binge eating data, which the Johnson & Johnson company had accumulated by distributing instruments for companies and their employees to conduct health self-assessments. Companies normally distribute health surveys in order to try to identify any modifiable health risk behaviors. Striegel has been researching eating disorders for the past 30 years and previously had not had access to these data sets.
“If you can identify people who have these behaviors, you can have an intervention to help your population to improve,” Striegel said. “I wanted to look at the people at the base [of the companies] and see how common binge eating was in that database, so I could see associated features with people who reported to binge eating.”
Striegel set out to study the many health risks associated with binge eating, examining 46,351 people including 24,608 women and 21,743 men for side effects including obesity, hypertension, diabetes and negative effects on productivity. The study found that 11.2 percent of women and 7.5 percent of men reported behavior indicative of binge eating. She identified depression and obesity as two prevalent side effects and set out to describe the effects of eating disorders in order to inform future treatment.
“My overarching goal is to figure out ways to reduce what I call the ‘burden of suffering,’” Striegel said. “First you have to identify the problem, treat the people that have the problem, and through treatment you reduce the duration of it and then reduce the suffering that occurs.”
When someone suffers from an eating disorder, Striegel says, they are not the only one who suffers. There are psychological and social costs, and the families are indirectly affected, which contributes to the suffering that is incurred. With the data information from companies, she’s hoping more treatment opportunities can be offered that could decrease depression and improve the quality of work.
“What I’m hoping to do is look at what happens when intervention is offered and see if there are benefits, or does the behavior stop, and does stopping the behavior lead to other positive outcomes,” Striegel said.
According to Striegel, while some companies have weight loss programs for obesity, therapy for binge eating is not as commonly offered. She said that strong evidence shows binge eating, and the problems associated with it, can be dealt with if the proper treatment is provided, but there is not a lot of public consciousness surrounding the issue.
“I think if employers were aware that they could positively affect their employees’ health by targeting binge eating, it could be good for both of the parties,” Striegel said.
Streigel believes that given the prevalence of discussions surrounding the cost of health care, bringing this attention to eating disorders will change the different benefits provided by businesses. She sees this study as a first step in investigating health care offerings for those affected by eating disorders.
“I’m hoping the field will pay attention [to the study] and do more work for disseminating health care studies,” she added.
In addition to its medical implications, Striegel is interested to see how her study will impact the field of psychology. Rose Cheng ’14, who is studying social psychology, echoed Striegel’s belief that many people view men as less susceptible to eating disorders.
“I feel like it’s definitely important to study both the genders,” Cheng said. “I feel like people view women as more sensitive than men [with regards to] eating disorders.”
Zoe Weitzman ’14, who studied eating disorders in her previous psychology class, sees the study as a way to illuminate gender stereotypes and help promote teaching about better health.
“I think that body issues in males are just as prevalent in males as they are for females, and as far as the work place goes, it’s a stressful environment for both sexes,” she said. “We need to be learning and teaching proper nutrition to combat both eating disorders and obesity.”