NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Men are catching up to women in one area. They too are feeling pressure to achieve perfect bodies, and this can lead them down unhealthy paths.
The findings of a new study "challenge that myth that men aren't affected by the media or other's comments towards their bodies," Dr. Tracy L. Tylka, at Ohio State University, told Reuters Health.
"Men are affected by those pressures in the media ... or the pressures that others put on them to look more muscular," she said.
"For some men, this can lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors to try to reach that ideal," Tylka added in a statement from the university.
Previous research has linked the sexual objectification of women in society to disordered eating behaviors among women. During the last three decades, however, men's bodies have also become increasingly objectified in the media.
One study showed that men who were exposed to ads that included a more muscular male image later expressed more dissatisfaction with their own bodies than those exposed to neutral ads. "Men see these idealized, muscular men in the media and feel their own bodies don't measure up," according to Tylka.
In light of such research, Tylka investigated the relationship between the pressure to become more muscular and men's adoption of certain behaviors. For her study, 285 male university students, mostly freshmen, completed various surveys about the pressure to be muscular and its ramifications.
On a scale that ranged from "never" to "always," the study participants reported that they "often" felt pressure to be muscular, according to Tylka. They "often" or "usually" internalized the muscular images presented by the media -- i.e. believed that the only desirable shape is the highly muscular body type. They were also "often" or "usually" dissatisfied about their bodies.
These college men also reported that they "sometimes" engaged in maladaptive behaviors, Tylka reported.
Men who were dissatisfied with their muscularity, for example, were likely to be more preoccupied about becoming more muscular, which led to their use of supplements and possibly steroid use as well, to achieve that muscular image, according to Tylka. Dissatisfaction with their level of body fat predicted a higher preoccupation with counting calories and cutting off certain food groups, she explained.
Because the idealized muscular body image is rooted in society, with "men thinking they're expected to look a certain way, it can contribute to very negative things for men," Tylka said.
"Instead of pressuring men to be more muscular, (we need to) accept men's bodies for what they are and instead focus on internal characteristics," she said. "Stop focusing on appearance, for both men and women."
Tylka presented her findings earlier this month during the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, held in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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