Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Is Linked To Eating Disorder Risk, Says New Study, And Discrimination May Be To Blame

According to a recent large-scale study, transgender and non-transgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students may be at the highest risk for eating disorders. Alexis E. Duncan, the lead author of the study, told Reuters: "We found that broadly speaking, cisgender heterosexual men had the lowest rates, followed by cisgender sexual minority women, cisgender heterosexual women, cisgender unsure and sexual minority men and women, and that transgender people had the highest rates."

The study spanned 223 universities, with over 200,000 heterosexual (5,000 of which reported themselves as unsure), 15,000 gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 479 transgender participants. Duncan notes that this is the first study to include enough transgender participants to make constructive comparisons. But there were a relatively few questions about eating disorders in this study, meaning there is room for a more comprehensive look.

While cisgender heterosexual women are normally in the spotlight for eating disorder studies, transgender students showed much higher rates of disordered eating and extreme dieting. Reuters reported that "transgender students were more than four times as likely to report an eating disorder diagnosis as cisgender heterosexual women. Transgender students were also twice as likely to report using diet pills and more than twice as likely to report vomiting or using laxatives during the previous month." Worryingly, 1.5 percent of students overall said that they had been diagnosed with an eating disorder in the past year and 3 percent had vomited, used laxatives, or used dieting pills.

Possible causes for this include the stress of discrimination and ill-treatment of the trans community, and also an attempt to control a body they don't feel comfortable in. Monica Algars of Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, who has studied this area before, told Reuters Health that:

Transgender people may strive for thinness as an attempt to suppress features of their birth gender, or accentuate features of their self-identified gender."

Luckily, issues of gender dysphoria and body dissatisfaction can sometimes be treated successfully with gender reassignment treatment, Algars added.

The full study can be found in the Journal of Adolescent Health.