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Teen boys who think they're skinny may be at higher risk for depression

Updated: Jan 14, 2014 02:59 PM
© Jupiterimages / Pixland / Thinkstock © Jupiterimages / Pixland / Thinkstock

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 14, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Teen boys who think they're too skinny are at increased risk for depression, and they're more likely to be bullied and use steroids, two new studies suggest.

In one study, researchers analyzed data gathered from more than 2,100 boys who were about 16 years old in 1996 and followed for 13 years. The study included more than 1,400 whites, about 500 blacks and more than 230 Hispanics. The remainder were Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American or "other."

Boys who thought they were very underweight but actually were average weight or higher had the highest levels of depressive symptoms, the study found. These results remained steady throughout the length of the study, which ended when the participants were close to 30 years old.

Teen boys who believed they were overweight but were actually a healthy weight were also more likely to be depressed than those who believed they were of average weight. However, they were not as likely to be depressed as those who believed they were very underweight, the study found.

In the second study, researchers analyzed data from a 2009 survey of more than 8,000 boys in grades nine through 12 across the United States. The study found that those who believed themselves to be underweight were more likely to have depression than those who were average weight or overweight.

Boys who believed they were underweight were more likely to be victims of bullying and more likely to use steroids, according to the second study, which was published online recently in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

While the research found an association between being underweight and being bullied and depressed, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

"These studies highlight the often underreported issue of distorted body image among adolescent boys," Aaron Blashill, who led both studies, said in a journal news release.

"Teenage girls tend to internalize and strive for a thin appearance, whereas teenage boys tend to emphasize a more muscular body type," said Blashill, a staff psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. "We found that some of these boys who feel they are unable to achieve that often unattainable image are suffering and may be taking drastic measures."

Blashill said doctors treating depressed teen boys -- particularly those who believe they are underweight or bullied -- should be aware of the possibility of steroid use.

"Unfortunately, there is little evidence-based research on effective therapies for steroid use among adolescent boys," he said. "However, cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be effective for body-image concerns and could be helpful for boys considering using or already using steroids."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how to assess your weight.

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