Young heterosexual men are falling prey to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia just as much as women and gay men - and their numbers are increasing, a leading specialist has warned.

Dr John Morgan, a consultant psychiatrist and director of the Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders in Leeds, told the Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Liverpool that growing numbers of young men are increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies. In addition, the gap in the numbers of gay and straight men with eating disorders is closing.

Dr Morgan told Annual Meeting delegates that men are:

- less likely to recognise their eating disorder
- more likely to be mis-diagnosed with other mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia
- less likely to be given treatment
- less likely to be referred to a special eating disorder clinic.

Many men struggle to be referred to a specialist eating disorders clinic in the first instance. Furthermore, once they undergo treatment, many report being stigmatised as the only man in the clinic.

He said: "By the time they go for treatment, the disorder is much further down the line. Sometimes when men overcome their reluctance, their GP is likely to say that men don't get eating disorders. So it's not just their reluctance - it's the system putting up barriers."

Images of skeletal models or men with 'six-packs', plus a plethora of choices now open to men, is at the root of body dissatisfaction, Dr Morgan said.

"To be a young man is our society is a difficult thing. What you do and who you are is less straightforward. Women were challenged decades ago to consider which of the many different social roles they adopted. Now men are having to respond to the choices that society gives them.

"Suddenly younger straight men have similar pressures to gay men and women. There is a crisis of masculinity in our society. They are given all these roles and to simply decide to manipulate your body is a nice easy solution to all the complexities of life."

Dr Morgan's research, drawn from a range of studies, has been accepted by the European Eating Disorders Review

Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, BT Convention Centre, Liverpool, 2 -5 June 2009

The Royal College of Psychiatrists