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Build monster biceps? Images in popular culture that depict the ideal male physique as lean and muscular are fueling an increasing preoccupation among young men about how their bodies measure up, according to a new study by Deborah Belle, a CAS and GRS psychology professor, and former student Ida Jodette Hatoum (CAS’04). “Just as the culturally approved female body is becoming thinner,” says Hatoum, “the cultural ideal for masculinity demands increasing muscularity.”

The researchers surveyed 89 male college students, ages 18 to 23, asking them questions about their magazine reading and movie, television, and music video watching habits, as well as their attitudes about the ideal male body, the ideal female body, and whether they lift weights, diet, or use beauty products. They also asked about the subjects’ self-esteem, bodily concerns, and attitudes about their ideal weight.

The subjects’ average body mass index, which is the amount of body fat based on height and weight, was at the upper end of the normal range, but more than half the men said they wanted to gain weight. Participants spent an average of 5.8 hours a week exercising and nearly a third had taken dietary supplements to build muscle.

The researchers found that subjects’ concerns about their own muscularity was associated with the number of male-oriented magazines they view, and that the number of hours they spent watching music videos was strongly associated with their using muscle-building dietary supplements. In addition, men who most valued thinness in women were more concerned with their own bodies, read more magazines for men, and spent more time watching movies.

The authors caution that their study cannot reliably determine if reading magazines for men increases men’s concerns about their body or if men who are preoccupied with their bodies choose to read such magazines. They suggest that additional controlled studies that follow men over time might determine the causal factors. However, they point out that extensive research on women has established that media images and ultrathin cultural icons are associated with body dissatisfaction, resulting in an epidemic of dangerous eating disorders. With growing evidence of anabolic steroid use among young men, they say, this is an area that warrants closer study.

The research was reported in the October 2004 Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

Sign of a big heart. People with an enlarged heart, particularly those with an enlarged left ventricle, the lower left chamber that pumps newly oxygenated blood out to the body, are at risk of heart failure. And according to recent research by Ramachandran S. Vasan, a MED associate professor of medicine and a researcher at the Framingham Heart Study, a routine electrocardiogram (EKG) may be able to detect enlargement of the left ventricular cavity and thickening of its walls, even in individuals who have no prior history of cardiac disease.

An electrocardiogram is a simple test that monitors the electrical signals of the heart, producing the familiar spiked pattern of heartbeats seen on monitors and printouts. According to Vasan, if the segment of the pattern known as QRS, which measures the contraction of the left ventricle, is elongated, it may indicate a large cardiac chamber and a thick chamber wall. Earlier studies on patients with overt heart failure demonstrated such an association, but Vasan’s study is the first to show the association between QRS length and the size of the ventricular cavity and wall thickness in people who have no previous history of a heart attack or symptoms of heart failure.

Vasan and his colleagues collected data from EKGs and heart ultrasound studies of 4,534 patients in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart and Framingham Offspring Studies, longitudinal studies dating back 30 to 50 years that have produced groundbreaking research on cardiac health and have been operated by BU since 1971. The images from the heart ultrasound studies were used to determine the size of the left ventricular cavity and the thickness of the walls.

The researchers caution that since the study depended on a single EKG and a single heart ultrasound, they cannot say which came first, the longer QRS segment or the greater size of the ventricular cavity and walls. They suggest that further studies, in which individuals are followed over time, will help clarify how the two factors are related.

The study was published in the March 1 Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations