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msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/31/2011 9:55:11 AM ET 2011-10-31T13:55:11

People tend to notice when women binge on food — men, not so much. And that may explain why many people think that binge eating is just an women's eating disorder.

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But men are almost as likely as women to lose control in the presence of food and to suffer ill health because of their bingeing, a new study shows. 

After surveying 46,351 men and women about their relationships with food, researchers found that almost 8 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women had a tendency to binge, according to the study which was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Those who reported bingeing at least once a month were more likely to be obese, to be depressed, to have sleeping problems, and to be less productive at work – and that was true of both sexes.

“There is a widely held perception that this is just a women’s problem," said the study’s lead author Ruth Striegel, a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University. "That’s just wrong.”

There is one major difference between bingeing men and bingeing women, Striegel said. Men are far less likely than women to seek treatment for their eating disorder. And that means they’re also less likely to enroll in the studies that might help researchers figure out how to help them.

Striegel and others hope that the new findings will encourage researchers to reach out to more men.

In the past, researchers have assumed that the reason fewer men showed up in treatment programs was that bingeing was less of a problem for them.

“This study shows that in terms of impairment [from binge eating], men and women look essentially the same as one another,” said Dr. Jennifer Wildes, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and research director at the Center for Overcoming Problem Eating at UPMC’s Western Psychiatric Institute.

But men may not be seeking help because they don’t see this kind of out-of-control eating as abnormal, Wildes said. “And primary care physicians are really not looking for this in men,” she added.

Wildes hopes that studies like this one will spur more doctors to ask overweight male patients about eating behaviors. 

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