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Muscle dysmorphia in Canadian boys, young men a growing concern: study



Canadian researchers are drawing attention to the increasing prevalence of “a pathological pursuit of muscularity” among Canadian boys and young men, with a new study that found one in four were at risk of developing what’s known as muscle dysmorphia.

The study, published Jan. 17 in the journal Body Image, said that Canadian health-care professionals “should be alerted” to the high occurrence of muscle dysmorphia (MD) symptoms in this population.

Muscle dysmorphia is the obsession with muscle size and definition, resulting in distress and a “significant drive” for muscularity, the study said. Some symptoms include compulsive exercise, specific dieting to build and maintain muscle, use of appearance-and-performance-enhancing drugs and substances and disruptions to daily life.

“It’s colloquially known as reverse anorexia,” Kyle Ganson, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and lead author of the study, told in an interview. “Instead of driving for fitness, there’s an intense drive for muscularity, and generally it’s like bulk muscularity, significant strength, it can be about lean and cut defined features.”


The study is one of the first to explore MD symptoms and prevalence in a larger sample of a broader population. In the past, most of the research focused on bodybuilders or smaller groups of people.

The study found that men and boys reported greater overall MD symptoms than women, transgender and gender non-conforming participants. Those who identified as South Asian or Middle Eastern reported higher MD symptoms than those who identified as white.

Without research on MD and other mental health disorders dealing with body image, health-care facilities and practitioners are not equipped to diagnose and provide treatment to people, the study states. The impact MD can have on individuals could increase the mental distress of a person, possibly leading to suicidal ideation and attempts, an article in Prim Psychiatry reads.

With the rise of eating disorders in Canada, which have similar symptoms as MD, researchers believe body dissatisfaction is “growing in prevalence.”

MD is categorized under body dysmorphic disorders (BDD), characterized as dissatisfaction with one’s appearance, particularly with a perceived flaw. MD and BDD fall under the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) spectrum.


Researchers used data from the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviours, a survey investigating social and behavioural health of young people in Canada. Just over 2,000 people between the ages of 16 to 30, from all 13 provinces and territories, completed the survey.

A total of 13 questions were asked that corresponded with the muscle dysmorphia symptomatology and a score was given.

Participants had a mean age of 22.9. More than half (55.7 per cent) were women, 37.6 per cent were men and 6.7 per cent identified as transgender/gender non-conforming. The majority of people identified as white (61.5 per cent) and heterosexual (59.6 per cent).

According to the research, 17.2 per cent of the study sample was considered at risk for MD. Of that, 25.7 per cent were men and 18 per cent were transgender/ gender non-conforming.

People who reported a lifetime use of steroids to build muscles struggled more with negative feelings about muscle size which disrupted their daily activities, compared to those who did not use muscle-enhancing substances, the study found.

People who identified as South Asian and Middle Eastern reported higher MD symptoms than people who identified as white.

Those who identified as gay or lesbian had “significantly” higher MD symptoms. The data also showed that those who identified as queer and questioning had higher body image issues associated with MD symptoms, but that did not disrupt their daily lives.


Ganson said social media is “a big perpetrator” of unrealistic body standards and harmful narratives that affect how some people see themselves.

“There’s a lot of influencers on social media who provide information about the gym, or gym culture, or different exercise routines or eating routines. So you can get information very free (and) easily accessible and available.”

Often, the male ideal is portrayed as white, with a “triangle-shaped” body: large arm muscles and a smaller torso.

While more research is needed to understand how and why MD impacts South Asian and Middle Eastern people in particular, the study says one reason for this may be the desire to adapt to “Western” body ideals.

Although MD is not an eating disorder, the links between them are clear. Eating disorders, which spiked among youth in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, were linked, in part, to unrealistic body ideals on social media.

Ganson participated in research published in September 2022 about the practice of bulking and cutting in the muscle-building and fitness communities. The diet tactic is characterized as alternating between consuming surplus calories (bulking) and restricting calories (cutting) to optimize the growth of lean muscle. Ganson said this research found links between MD and eating disorders.

“We did find relationships between bulking and cutting and eating disorder, psychopathology that includes not only thinking about body and weight and shape but also behaviours like binge eating, laxative use or excessive exercising,” he said.

These behaviours are “well documented” on social media and in popular culture, Ganson explained in the press release.

Gym culture is heavily intertwined with use of performance substances and dietary supplements, Ganson said. The MD research found that those who took steroids to specifically build muscles had lower body dissatisfaction compared to those who did not take drugs. However, Ganson said the path from legal supplements to illegal steroids can be a slippery slope.

“If they’re having significant distress around feeling like they’re not big enough, that they’re not strong enough, feeling like they look terrible, there are some people – not all– are going to turn to methods to change that, and that might be anabolic steroids,” he said.

The distress transgender and gender non-conforming individuals feel when in a body they don’t identify with can increase symptoms of MD, the study explains. There is an emphasis on appearing (or passing) as one’s gender identity.

This can result in a “desire to change their body to be more muscular (i.e., trans men may desire a more muscular and masculine body),” the study states.


This study is one of very few that explored symptoms of MD and where the distress comes from. To understand who is impacted by MD and other mental disorders, more research is needed, Ganson said.

“I’m calling it preliminary data because it’s really a newer field that we’re investigating, despite it being very common in popular culture,” he said. “I’m really hoping that it will start to get into people’s ears.”

Ganson said if Health Canada or Statistics Canada invested resources into the topic, it would allow for a better understanding of the symptoms and awareness. The survey used in the MD study allowed researchers to publish multiple articles on different topics related to body image.

“We actually had about 900 participants take the survey again 12 months later,” Ganson said. “And we asked a variety of similar questions, but actually some new questions around health-care utilization, or adverse health effects.”

Ganson hopes the research will change the knowledge on MD screening and combat the stigma around men’s and boys’ body image issues.

“If there’s a knowledgeable provider there who can screen or ask certain questions, they might actually be able to identify this and gear that person in the right treatment direction,” Ganson said. “Which would certainly be really important given the really low diagnosis rate and really low treatment utilization rate.”


The following is a list of resources and hotlines dedicated to supporting people:

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre provides resources and referrals supporting people directly or indirectly affected by disordered eating.

Toll-free: 1-866-633-4220

Kids Help Phone offers free, anonymous and confidential professional phone counselling and online counselling, available 24/7 for kids and youth 20 years of age and younger.


Get Support

The Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline is available for those who are in, or know someone who is in, immediate crisis or has suicide-related concerns.

1-833-456-4566 (24/7)

1-866-277-3553 in Quebec (24/7)

Text to 45645 (4 p.m. – Midnight ET). Text messaging rates apply. French text support is currently unavailable.


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Debt in Canada: What’s normal for your age?



If you’re like most people, you have at least some debt. Your mortgage, car payment, credit card balance, and student loans are all liabilities that contribute to your total debt.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how much debt is normal for your age, though?

Below, I’ll outline the average and median debt by age in Canada, so you can see how your finances compare. Then I’ll explain some of the key reasons why Canadians’ debt is increasing.

Average debt by age group in Canada

First of all, it’s important to understand that debt is normal. Very few Canadians are 100% debt-free. Even those with near-perfect credit scores likely have an auto or student loan they’re paying down.


These are the debt metrics measured by Statistics Canada during census surveys.

Here’s the average debt by age group in Canada as of 2019, according to the latest data sets from Statistics Canada:

Note – this data applies to individuals who are not in an economic family. The numbers differ for economic families, which include married/common-law partners and families with dependent children.

The total debt measured includes:

  • Mortgage debt
  • Lines of credit
  • Credit card debt
  • Student loans
  • Vehicle loans
  • Other debt (doesn’t fit in the categories above)

Median debt by age group in Canada

Looking at average debt provides a decent overview of the data. However, the averages are very skewed by the debt incurred by Canada’s ultra-wealthy taxpayers.

When calculating the average, all values are added together and divided by the total number of values. This means that a few extreme values can greatly influence the result.

In contrast, the median is the middle value in a dataset when values are arranged in order. As such, it is less affected by outliers and provides a more accurate representation of typical values.

For example, a multi-millionaire with a $2-million mortgage will skew the average higher than the average Canadian.

For a more accurate look at Canadian debt, I find that the median data as of 2019 provides more accurate insight:

Why is consumer debt increasing in Canada?

Over the past year, consumer debt has notably increased. This is especially true for credit card debt. The average monthly spending per credit card increased by 17.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the previous year, according to a recent report by Equifax Canada.

In the report Rebecca Oakes, vice-president of Advanced Analytics at Equifax Canada, stated that “Gen Z and Millennials are driving up higher consumer spending the most.”

Even though inflation is slowly easing, it’s still relatively high. The high inflation has driven up the cost of everyday goods, including groceries and fuel. This, in turn, means that Canadians are spending more per month than they were before 2022, when inflation started to rise.

Unfortunately, workers’ pay hasn’t grown with inflation. This means that the average Canadian simply has less money to spend, increasing their reliance on credit cards to purchase daily necessities.

  • Pent-up demand and travel

Oakes goes on to state that “Pent-up demand and increased travel with the easing of COVID restrictions, combined with soaring inflation, have led to some of the highest increases in credit card spending we’ve ever seen.”

It makes sense that Canadians would be eager to travel after several years of travel restrictions, even if it means incurring more credit card debt.

  • Increased interest rates

To keep inflation under control, the fed steadily increased interest rates throughout 2022 and is discussing more rate hikes this year. As the federal interest rate has increased, variable interest rates, such as those offered by credit card companies, have also increased.

Those who carry a credit balance over to the next month must now pay even more interest on their credit card debt, increasing their overall debt.

Creating a plan to manage your debt

Accruing debt in the short-term may be inevitable due to high-interest rates and inflation. However, it’s important to create a plan to get your debt under control.

A reliable budget plan paired with consistent action is the best way to get out of debt.

Revisit your monthly budget to find areas where you can save, try to pay down high-interest credit card debt as quickly as possible, and consider taking up a side hustle to earn extra money that you can put towards your debt.


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Six bodies, including one child, recovered from St. Lawrence River




The bodies of six people, including one child with a Canadian passport, were recovered from the St. Lawrence River late Thursday afternoon, according to Akwesasne Mohawk Police Chief Shawn Dulude.

The St. Lawrence River flowing east past Cornwall Island.
The St. Lawrence River flowing east past Cornwall Island. (CBC News)

The bodies of six people, including one child with a Canadian passport, were recovered from the St. Lawrence River late Thursday afternoon, according to Akwesasne Mohawk Police Chief Shawn Dulude.

Dulude said he could not provide any information on the nationalities of the other five deceased.


The Mohawk community of Akwesasne straddles the Canada-U.S. border and occupies territory in Ontario, Quebec and New York state.

The Akwesasne Mohawk Police, with the assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard, is leading the ongoing investigation, Dulude said.

The bodies were spotted in Canadian waters by a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter, he said.

The discovery of the bodies coincided with the search for a missing Akwesasne community member that also began Thursday, Dulude said.



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They were turned away at the Canadian border



Toddlers ran through aisles filled with snacks and candies. Adults slumped in chairs. Multiple cellphones were plugged into a single wall socket. Backpacks and suitcases were scattered among the two rows of tables in a corner of this small-town bus stop and gas station.

After they were turned away at the Canadian border and spent three days in detention, the roughly 15 asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart No. 109 in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., south of Montreal, on Tuesday afternoon were trying to figure out what to do.

They had tried to get into the country at the popular unofficial crossing on Roxham Road in the hours after a new border deal between Canada and the U.S. came into effect late last week.

Alan Rivas, a Peruvian man who was hoping to reunite with his girlfriend who’s been living in Montreal for two years, said he’d spent $4,000 on making it this far.


“I’m trying to think about what to do now.”

A sense of solidarity emerged as people recognized each other from various parts of their time stuck on the border, along with a sense of resignation and deep disappointment.

“Disappointing and heartbreaking,” said a man from Central Africa, whom CBC agreed not to identify because he fears it could affect his asylum claim process in the United States.

A man waves at the camera, a Greyhound bus in the background.
Alan Rivas, who is from Peru, was trying to reunite with his partner in Montreal, but was hours too late attempting to cross into Canada at Roxham Road after strict new border rules came into effect at midnight Saturday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

He had shared a cab ride with a man from Chad, who fled to the U.S. after the government of his country led a violent crackdown on opponents last fall.

“It’s unfair. We are not home and we suffer. We’re looking for a better life,” the man from Central Africa said.

The man from Chad looked up and said: “No, looking for protection is not having a better life. I had a life.”

The Chadian was not let into Canada despite his wife and child being Canadian citizens, he said. Having a family member with legal status in Canada is one of the few exemptions to the strict new rules that make it nearly impossible to claim asylum at the Canada-U.S. border. His wife and child fled to a nearby country after the crackdown in Chad, but he explained that his wife’s family is still in Canada.

Other exemptions include being an unaccompanied minor and having a work permit or other official document allowing a person to be in Canada.

“They made me sign a paper without giving me time to read it. They didn’t explain anything,” said the man, whom CBC also agreed not to name because he fears for his family’s safety in an African country near Chad.

The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented swiftly before the weekend, leaving local governments and organizations little time to respond and turned-away asylum seekers struggling to find food, shelter and rides.

A man's hands over a brown Canadian government envelope. A tag with the number 18 on it and a plastic bracelet with numbers.
A man from Chad, who was detained at the Canada-U.S. border for three days, shows the number he was given while waiting to be released back into the United States. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

The man from Central Africa was trying to round up enough money to pay for a $200 bus ticket to Houston, where he would stay with a friend. The man from Chad gave him the $40 he was missing.

The Central African said he had spent his savings on coming to Canada. His hope was to live here until obtaining residency, and then arranging for his family to come to meet him.

“I know a guy in Houston who hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. He still doesn’t have status,” he said.

A young Haitian mother cradled her baby as her toddler made friends with another child. Her family had paid an acquaintance in New Jersey $300 per adult to get to Roxham Road before midnight Friday, but the driver got lost and they arrived at 12:03 a.m.

Steven, a 24-year-old Venezuelan who attempted to cross into Canada at Roxham early Saturday morning, mingled with the people he’d met in detention. Then he tried to call his mom.

A woman leans her head on a younger man. Both standing outside a gas station.
Carmen Salazar, left, and Steven met in detention at the Canadian border this week. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“She doesn’t know,” said Steven, who didn’t want his last name used in this story because of fears it could affect his U.S. asylum claim. “I know I seem happy but I am sad.”

Carmen Salazar, 45, also from Venezuela, watched him from another table.

“It’s hard, really hard,” she said.

The group of asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart had found comfort in finding each other. They all boarded a bus leaving Plattsburgh at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Its main destination was New York City.

Others haven’t been so lucky finding a way out of Plattsburgh.

The night before, a woman who was seen at Roxham Road early Saturday, sat alone at the bus stop crying.

3 nights in a motel and no plan

Across the street, in a small motel, a 34-year-old Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend had one night left out of three that had been paid for by local emergency housing services. But they had no plan and only $41 to their name.

“We’re here. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look for ways to be able to live. What I’m looking for — nothing more — is a place to rest and a place to work. Nothing else,” said the man, sitting in the lobby of the motel. CBC is not naming him because of fears it could affect his American asylum claim.

The couple had intended to stay in the U.S. after crossing the Mexican border, but the woman became pregnant and developed constant pains. In the U.S., they had to stay with separate family members far from each other and the man worried about his wife and being able to afford medical bills, so they decided to try to get to Canada, having heard it was easier to find work and that health-care was more affordable, he said.

Steven, 24, and his 21-year-old friend, both from Venezuela, wait for the bus to New York City at the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station Plattsburgh, NY on Tuesday.
Steven, 24, and his 21-year-old friend, both from Venezuela, wait for a bus to New York City at the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station Plattsburgh on Tuesday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, a man from another Central African country struggled to hold back tears.

He said the confusion after being taken in at Roxham Road by RCMP officers was hurtful because it wasn’t clear if he’d be accepted into Canada or not. When they called his name, he was filled with hope, only to be told he was being sent to U.S. Border Patrol.

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have anyone who will take me in,” he said.

The response from U.S. Border Patrol appears to be uneven. Some asylum seekers CBC spoke with had taxis called for them, having to pay another $70 to get to the Mountain Mart. One woman was found on the side of the service road by the border and given a ride by a social science researcher and documentary photographer met by CBC.

The man interviewed by Radio-Canada was part of a group who were given a ride to the gas station by a Greyhound bus heading back to New York from Montreal.

CBC reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday, asking what happens to asylum seekers rejected by Canada, but did not receive a response.

Luggage sits outside the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station in the town of Plattsburgh, NY.
Luggage sits outside the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station in Plattsburgh Tuesday as a group of asylum seekers turned back at the Canadian border wait for a bus to New York City. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Although in favour of some kind of change to reduce traffic at Roxham Road, one local official wants help from the federal governments to deal with the fallout.

Michael Cashman, supervisor for the Town of Plattsburgh, says Canada and the U.S. to come up with a response to help asylum seekers get to where they want to go in the U.S.

He isn’t against the move to restrict access to Canada at Roxham Road.

“There had to be a change,” he said, noting residents had been asking for one, but compared the way it was done to turning off a light switch before entering a room: “You’re going to bump into some furniture.”

The area is rural and has its share of struggles with transportation and housing, Cashman said.

“There isn’t a robust infrastructure to be able to take on this humanitarian crisis as it develops.”

On Monday and Tuesday, buses coming from New York carried only a few asylum seekers hoping to cross the border. Most knew about the new rules, believing their cases would fit some of the exemptions. Others still did not know.

By Tuesday, cab drivers were no longer ferrying people to Roxham Road, taking them to the official border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., and Lacolle, Que., instead.



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