Statistics on Anorexia in Men & Boys

The numbers around men with anorexia and eating disorders may be misleading. For example, a frequently quoted statistic is that 10% of anorexia cases are male, but even that statistic may be inaccurate, with some studies indicating the ratio may be higher.

Person looking at statistics

Males can develop anorexia and other eating disorders. They are unfortunately underrepresented in research and underdiagnosed, even though male body dissatisfaction is not new.

Anorexia Nervosa in Men: The Statistics

It’s estimated that around 10% to 25% of anorexia cases are males. [1] However, many experts note that available data on men struggling with anorexia and other eating disorders is limited. 

How anorexia nervosa manifests for men and the reasons it manifests may differ in ways isn’t fully understood. Men are a group that is underdiagnosed with anorexia as a whole. More work needs to be done to research both eating disorders among men and eating disorders in general.

Notably, a significant portion (~30%) of people who develop an eating disorder have a history of sexual abuse, leading to issues with mental health. However, a much smaller number of males with eating disorders have such a reported history. 

Some experts suggest this is due to the extreme stigmatization and shaming of men who are sexually abused. If men feel unable to report traumas like this, it could skew the data of studies examining the potential causes of anorexia and other eating disorders (e.g., binge eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder) among men. 

Anorexia in the Gay Community

Some studies have suggested that gay and bisexual men are generally at a greater risk of developing eating disorders and experience a higher rate of dissatisfaction with their bodies, are more likely to have body image issues, and have general body-related anxiety.

At the same time, a study examining people of different gender and sexual identities found that cisgender gay men have a generally lower rate of dealing with eating disorder symptoms than lesbian women and transgender and gender non-conforming adults. [2]

Because men are already underrepresented in studies and underdiagnosed, more research is needed regarding the rate of anorexia and other disorders among gay men and other historically stigmatized groups. 

Why Eating Disorders Are More Prevalent

While it does appear cisgender gay men have a higher rate of anorexia and other eating disorders when compared to straight men, the reason is less apparent. Some possible contributing factors are many gay subcultures focusing more on weight and body image and the fact that homosexuality has traditionally been stigmatized in many parts of the world, including in the U.S.

Perceived stigma and a feeling of being an outsider are known risk factors for eating disorders in men and boys.

Anorexia Among Male Athletes and Performers

Man with surfboard on beach

As has been true of all the groups discussed, anorexia and other eating disorders among male athletes are understudied. At the same time, multiple high-profile deaths among wrestlers from complications resulting from eating disorders have highlighted the seriousness of this phenomenon. 

A study highlighted that subclinical eating disorders are more prevalent among men than women. [3] People with subclinical eating disorders aren’t in treatment and don’t show all clinical aspects of anorexia or bulimia. They show problematic behaviors associated with eating disorders, but they don’t fit the diagnostic criteria.

One challenge in studying anorexia among male athletes and performers is that some roles have weight restrictions not set by the individual. For example, wrestling and many other sports have weight classes, where an athlete must be within a certain weight range to compete. 

Aberrant Eating Behaviors

A person may engage in aberrant eating behaviors, meaning unusual eating patterns we would classify as unsafe or otherwise unhealthy, but as a rational response to the demands of their sport (e.g., for weight loss) rather than because they have an actual eating disorder. When not trying to meet the demands of their sport, many of these people return to normal eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight. 

Notably, aberrant eating behaviors caused by the demands of a sport rather than mental illness can still be unsafe and damage the body. They don’t necessarily signal a disorder. 

Dangers of Anorexia Nervosa Among Athletes

A few things that are known are that male athletes struggling with anorexia tend to have low bone mineral density (BMD), which is correlated with a low BMI, high activity levels, and a low calcium intake. Because of the demands of sports, a person with anorexia can be in more danger than an individual with anorexia who is not an athlete. 

An athlete with anorexia pushes an already compromised body, sometimes extremely hard. This can potentially cause serious cardiac problems and other health issues, which can be dangerous or even fatal. 

It’s been suggested that athletes should be checked for certain signs of disordered eating, such as their nutritional markers, to ensure they’re maintaining an adequate diet that will allow them to compete safely. 

Additionally, if their disordered eating behaviors remain even when their training does not require it, they should seek treatment.

Barriers to Male Anorexia Treatment

Male anorexia is underrepresented in research and therefore is less understood by the medical community. Socially, it’s also less accepted, with many people associating anorexia (and disordered eating in general) only with women. 

While it is true that eating disorders are more common among women, men can absolutely develop them, including anorexia nervosa. It is essential both for doctors treating people and for people wondering if they may need help to understand that anorexia in men is not uncommon. [4]

At least two notable barriers exist for men who might benefit from anorexia treatment and eating disorder treatment:

  • Stigma: There is an increased level of stigma for men dealing with issues associated with disordered eating or that are known to contribute to a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder. Because of this stigma, it is less likely for men to seek treatment. More needs to be done to encourage men to talk about how they view their bodies and about any traumas they have experienced. 
  • Lack of information: There are likely differences in how men generally experience anorexia and other eating disorders that are not yet fully understood. Whether these differences might result from cultural, biological, or other differences isn’t immediately clear, although it is likely at least some combination of multiple factors.


  1. Strother E, Lemberg R, Stanford SC, Turberville D. (2012). Eating disorders in men: underdiagnosed, undertreated, and misunderstood. Eating Disorders; 20(5):346-55. 
  2. Bell K, Rieger E, Hirsch JK. (2019). Eating Disorder Symptoms and Proneness in Gay Men, Lesbian Women, and Transgender and Non-conforming Adults: Comparative Levels and a Proposed Mediational Model. Front Psychology; 10:1540. 
  3. Glazer JL. (2008). Eating Disorders Among Male Athletes. Current Sports Medicine Reports. Retrieved August 23, 2022. 
  4. Anorexia. (2020, May). National Library of Medicine. Retrieved August 23, 2022.

Last Update | 11 - 29 - 2022

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