Development of muscularity and weight concerns in heterosexual and sexual minority males

Health Psychol. 2013 Jan;32(1):42-51. doi: 10.1037/a0028964.


Objective: To examine the development of muscularity and weight concerns among heterosexual and sexual minority males in adolescence.

Method: Participants were 5,868 males from the Growing Up Today Study, a U.S. prospective cohort spanning ages 9-25 years. Generalized estimating equations were used to test sexual orientation differences in the development of muscularity concerns, weight gain attempts, and weight and shape concern.

Results: Desire for bigger muscles increased slightly each year across adolescence (β = .10, 95% C.I. = .09, .11) regardless of sexual orientation, but gay and bisexual participants reported greater desire for toned muscles than completely and mostly heterosexual males (β = .39, 95% C.I. = .21, .57). Desire for toned muscles did not change with age. Attempts to gain weight increased threefold across adolescence, with up to 30% reporting weight gain attempts by age 16. Although underweight males (the smallest weight status class) were most likely to attempt to gain weight, most of the observed weight gain attempts were by healthy (69%) and overweight/obese (27%) males, suggesting that most attempts were medically unnecessary and could lead to overweight. Sexual minority participants were 20% less likely to report weight gain attempts than completely heterosexual participants. Weight and shape concern increased with age, with gay and bisexual participants experiencing a significantly greater increase than heterosexual males.

Conclusions: Sexual orientation modifies the development and expression of male weight and muscularity concerns. The findings have implications for early interventions for the prevention of obesity and eating disorder risk in heterosexual and sexual minority males.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Image*
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Heterosexuality / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Minority Groups / psychology
  • Overweight
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sexuality / psychology*
  • Thinness
  • Young Adult