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The Drive to be 'Manly' May Cause Weight Gain in Boys

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The pressures that many young males feel to be and act masculine could be putting their health at risk, according to a new study.

In the first research project of its kind, a team from Boston Children's Hospital found that societal influences could cause boys and adolescent males to gain weight and have higher BMIs.

"Because thinness is not consistent with dominant cultural standards of masculinity, young people who conform to masculine norms may be more likely than other youth to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as high-calorie food consumption, overeating and sedentary behaviors," said Dr. S. Bryn Austin, lead researcher.

More rapid gains - but not in a good way

For the study, researchers looked at data from the Growing Up Today Study, which included nearly 15 years of research from about 10,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 23, living in the U.S.

Overall, the data showed that greater conformity to masculine norms in males was linked to higher BMI and more rapid gains in weight over time.

By age 23, "gender conforming" males had a BMI two units higher than gender non-conforming males.

According to Dr. Dana Rofey, spokesperson for The Obesity Society, there are "powerful" influences in society that shape how young people engage in weight-related behaviors.

"This valuable understanding of gender norms can help researchers, clinicians and policymakers design obesity interventions that target gender expression, which may pose barriers to a healthy weight," Rofey said.

The study is published in the journal Obesity.

Source: Obesity Society