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Canadian study links food insecurity to muscle dysmorphia in adolescent and young adults

A peer-reviewed study from University of Toronto researchers has found that adolescents and young adults who experienced food insecurity exhibited greater symptoms of muscle dysmorphia, marked by a significant desire for increased muscularity and heightened muscle dissatisfaction.

The study, which researchers believe is the first of its kind to examine the link between food insecurity and muscle dysmorphia, drew data from over 900 participants in the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviour.

According to the study published in the journal Body Image, nearly one in five participants experiencing food insecurity were found to be at clinical risk for muscle dysmorphia. 

“Muscle dysmorphia symptoms can be pervasive and severely impact individual functioning, which will only be compounded if someone is experiencing food insecurity, as well,” lead author Kyle T. Ganson, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, said in a press release.

“Our study's findings underscore the importance of addressing food insecurity comprehensively, considering its multifaceted impact on both physical and mental health."

Food insecurity has been identified as a social determinant of health, with prior research frequently highlighting its consequences, including stress, depression, and substance use. Moreover, food insecurity has been associated with the development of eating disorders and increased body dissatisfaction.

Researchers have found that the relationship between food insecurity and muscle dysmorphia symptoms were particularly evident in two key areas. They looked at functional impairment, where individuals experienced limitations in their daily activities and functionality due to muscle dysmorphia, and appearance intolerance, where individuals experienced heightened distress related to body image concerns and dissatisfaction.

Researchers have found a relationship between food insecurity and muscle dysmorphia symptoms, especially in two areas: functional impairment, where daily activities were affected, and appearance intolerance, leading to distress over body image concerns.

“Individuals who experience food insecurity and muscle dysmorphia may displace money for food towards pursuits of muscularity, such as gym memberships and muscle-building dietary supplements like whey protein and creatine,” explained Ganson.

The study authors suggest that individuals facing food insecurity lack access to high-quality, essential muscle-building foods like lean proteins and whole grains.

Researchers point to the need for targeted interventions, given their prior research highlighting rising concerns of food insecurity and muscle dysmorphia among Canadian youth.


Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta. Top Stories

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