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14 August 2006
Obsessive Desire For Muscles Creates Swathe Of Health Problems
by George Atkinson

New research from Ohio State University (OSU) suggests that increasing numbers of men are feeling societal pressure to have muscular bodies, and that pressure can lead to eating disorders, steroid abuse and an unhealthy preoccupation with lifting weights.

Study author, Tracy Tylka, said that it was not only women in America who feel pressure to achieve the perfect body. "Men see these idealized, muscular men in the media and feel their own bodies don't measure up," she explained. "For some men, this can lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors to try to reach that ideal."

Presenting her study at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Tylka said that while women have been pressured for decades to achieve a thin ideal, it was a more recent phenomenon for men. "Instead of seeing a decrease in objectification of women in society, there has just been an increase in the objectification of men. And you can see that in the media today," she said.

Tylka's study showed that the more pressure the men felt, the more they felt they had to live up to the ideals. "They start to believe that the only attractive male body is a muscular one. And when they internalize that belief, they judge themselves on that ideal and probably come up short, because it is not a realistic portrayal of men," she said.

And it's not just muscles that men are obsessing about.

Tylka said her research showed men are also very worried about their body fat. "Not only are men being targeted to be muscular, but they also feel they have to be very lean to show off their muscularity," she explained. And the more dissatisfied that men in the study felt with their muscularity and body fat, the more they engaged in unhealthy behaviors, the findings showed.

Tylka said that men who were not happy with their muscles were more likely to adopt a punishing weight-training schedule, use protein supplements, and contemplate using steroids. The men who were dissatisfied with their body fat were more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders, such as avoiding certain foods, being terrified about being overweight, and being preoccupied with a desire to be thinner.

"It is good to exercise, to lift weights, and to eat the foods that make your body function well," Tylka said. "But it is not good to be preoccupied with gaining muscle mass. Those that are preoccupied are not working out to get healthier; they are working out to bulk up. They are not eating healthy; they are cutting out major food groups like carbohydrates and eating massive amounts of protein."

Based on material from Ohio State University

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