Queer teens are twice as likely to experience binge eating disorders compared to their straight peers, a new study has found.
Binge-eating disorder (BED) is, according to the study, the most common type of eating disorder in the US, affecting up to 16.6 million Americans.
The disorder can act as a precursor for serious physical and mental health problems like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol, arthritis, depression, or anxiety, if not treated.
Based on data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, a large-scale 2020 study that recorded 10,000 adolescents aged 10-14, researchers were able to determine that teens from low-income households, teens of Native American descent, and teens who identify as queer were most likely to be associated with BED.
The study from the University of California at San Francisco points to stressors like bullying, discrimination, and internalised homophobia as the cause of heightened disordered eating and lowered self-esteem among gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens.
Lead study author Dr Jason Nagata writes: “Adolescents who identify as gay and bisexual face external and internal stressors, such as stigma, bullying, discrimination, and internalized homophobia, which all compound to an increased risk for disordered eating.
“This study found that adolescent males who identified as gay or bisexual had 12.5 times the odds of binge eating compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
“Similarly, adolescent girls who identified as lesbian or bisexual had twice the odds of binge eating and purging compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
“Given the emerging research that supports this association, future studies should explore the prevention, early identification, and management strategies of binge-eating behaviors for gay or bisexual adolescents.”
He continues: “Binge eating can result in psychological effects like depression and anxiety, and long-term physical health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
“Given the higher risk of eating disorders in LGBTQ+ youth, it is important that health care providers foster a welcoming environment to youth of all sexual orientations and genders.”
The study also determined that, although disordered eating behaviours are often thought to primarily affect women and girls, data proves that male adolescents are more likely to display binge eating behaviours than their female counterparts.
“In male adults and adolescents, body dissatisfaction is often tied to a drive for muscularity and larger size as opposed to thinness,” the study reads.
“Over half of young men who report weight gain and bulking goals report eating more to achieve this goal, which leads to the consumption of larger volumes of food.”
It adds that men are more likely than their female counterparts to engage in “cheat meals” the practice of briefly indulging in prohibited foods before returning to a strict diet.
Cheat meals, the study says, are linked to over-eating, loss of control while eating, and binge-eating behaviours.
It determines: “The findings from our analysis further illustrate the prevalence of binge-eating behaviors in adolescent males and serve as a call for more studies focusing on eating disorders in this population, particularly on the relationship between muscularity-oriented eating goals and binge eating.”
Dr Nagata concluded that any teenagers experiencing eating disorder symptoms should immediately “seek professional help.”
“Eating disorders are best supported by an interdisciplinary team, including a mental health, medical, and nutrition provider.”