Dear Mr. Dad: As a child, my son used to be quite a bit overweight—his pediatrician said he was borderline obese. About a year ago, though, he started losing weight. He looked great and seemed happier with himself. But he kept on losing weight, long after he needed to. Thinking he might be ill, we took him to the doctor who couldn’t find any medial issues. After another few months, he was absolutely emaciated. His pediatrician did a bunch of tests but still couldn’t find anything wrong. The daughter of some good friends of ours had anorexia and was in a treatment facility for a while. I asked the doctor whether our son could possibly have an eating disorder but he said boys don’t get it. Is he right?
A: Might be time for a new pediatrician. Even though we think of eating disorders as affecting only girls, the fact is that about a third of the country’s 30-million people who suffer from one are male. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues that make it very difficult for these boys and young men to get the help they desperately need. First, most medical professionals—like your son’s pediatrician—don’t even consider it. Even mental health professionals, who really should know better, have a tough time acknowledging it. The American Psychiatric Association, for example, has a nice section on its website devoted to eating disorders, but if you look at the list of symptoms of anorexia, the first one is “Menstrual periods cease.” So, almost by definition, there’s no way a boy could possibly be anorexic. The second symptom—“Osteopenia or osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) through loss of calcium”—is yet another condition that’s generally considered to be a women’s condition.