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Gay & lesbian teens more likely to have disordered eating habits than straight peers: UBC study

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Lauren Sundstrom Jul 22, 2016 6:10 am

Abusing diet pills, purging, fasting – these are some of the disordered eating behaviours that gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are more likely to display than their straight peers.

A study from University of British Columbia analyzed data from youth aged 12 to 18, and it found that while disordered eating habits are declining for heterosexual youth, they might be getting worse for gay youth.

“I think the data that we have here does suggest that programs that have been put out there to provide positive body image and healthy eating choices are reaching straight youth,” study lead Ryan Watson tells Daily Hive.”Our studies show that these behaviours are getting better over time for straight youth, but not for lesbian and bisexual girls in particular.”

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Displaying disordered eating habits is different from having an eating disorder, says Watson, since the latter requires a firm diagnosis from a doctor.

Since 1999, there has been a sharp increase in the prevalence of purging habits for lesbian youth, with numbers rising from 22% to 36%. In contrast, only 8% of their straight peers reported purging habits in 1999, and that number dropped to 5% by 2013. While the numbers are particularly high for lesbian youth, the disparity can be seen for gay youth as well.

As for trans youth, Watson says they have another study coming out later this month that shows disordered eating habits are even higher in that group than gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth.

Senior study author Elizabeth Saewyck adds that better supports tailored to lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are needed to help them develop a positive body image and make healthy eating choices.

The study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.


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Lauren Sundstrom
Lauren is a former staff writer at Daily Hive. She's a graduate of BCIT's Broadcast and Online Journalism program.

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