Young men who are more involved in muscle building have a significantly higher risk of depression, drink alcohol more often at weekends and are more likely to die although they are not obese. The data come from a study by the Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU) and Harvard University published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders (2018; doi: 10.1002/eat.22943).
Many young men want more muscles:
“I’m thinking anabolic steroids.” “I don’t think my chest is muscular enough.” “I feel guilty if I miss a workout.” These and similar statements were made by 2,460 American men aged 18 to 32 who participated in the study.
The clearest correlation was for the use of muscle building products: Those striving for more muscle were 4 times more likely to use legal and illegal substances such as anabolic steroids (OR = 4.49; 95% CI = 3.74-5.40; p < 0.0001).
In the past year, more than every 3rd study participant followed a diet. However, this had nothing to do with obesity. The study also shows that 10% of men suffer from a disturbed body perception. Despite their normal weight, they think they are too fat and want to lose weight. Homo- and bisexual men showed a higher striving for muscles compared to heterosexual men. The satisfaction with one’s own body had nothing to do with the level of education. According to the study, highly educated people were no more satisfied with their bodies than anyone else.
“The problem arises when the bodies of professional athletes like Ronaldo become the ideal of normal young men who have work, study and family,” says first author Trine Tetlie Eik-Nes. This unrealistic body image for men is just as challenging as being thin and narrow waists for women.
Muscles look like cosmetics
Previous studies have shown that boys who are either overweight or thin and boring have the greatest risk of developing body image disorders than young men. The study confirmed this idea that the desire for a muscular body has nothing to do with weight.
German youths find themselves too fat
According to Eik-Nes, muscles become a kind of cosmetic for muscle-obsessed men. They don’t build their strength to ski faster, improve their soccer skills or improve their health. “They train without training having anything to do with muscle function. That’s a big difference,” says the first author from NTNU.
Since culture and role models in the Western world are largely the same, Eik-Nes assumes that Norwegian men will respond similarly to the American participants in the study.