A recent study has unearthed a concerning reality: queer teenagers are twice as likely to experience binge-eating disorders (BED) compared to their heterosexual peers. This revelation sheds light on a pressing issue within the LGBTQ+ community, demonstrating a need for greater awareness and support.
The research, which analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study—a comprehensive study encompassing 10,000 adolescents aged 10-14—uncovered significant disparities. Teens hailing from low-income households, those of Native American descent, and those identifying as queer were found to be at the highest risk of BED.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, attributes these disparities to various stressors, including bullying, discrimination, and internalized homophobia. These stressors collectively contribute to heightened disordered eating behaviors and diminished self-esteem among gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens.
Dr. Jason Nagata, the lead author of the study, emphasizes the gravity of the findings. He notes, “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.”
The study reveals startling statistics: adolescent males identifying 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. These findings underscore the urgent need for prevention, early identification, and management strategies to address binge-eating behaviors among LGBTQ+ adolescents.
Binge-eating can lead to profound psychological effects, including depression and anxiety, along with long-term physical health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Consequently, healthcare providers are urged to create welcoming environments for youth of all sexual orientations and genders.
The study also challenges a common misconception that disordered eating behaviors primarily affect women and girls. Surprisingly, the data reveals that male adolescents are more likely to exhibit binge-eating behaviors than their female counterparts. For males, body dissatisfaction is often tied to a desire for muscularity and size, rather than thinness.
Additionally, the study highlights that men are more inclined than women to engage in “cheat meals”—brief indulgences in prohibited foods followed by a return to strict diets. These cheat meals are closely associated with overeating, loss of control during eating, and binge-eating behaviors.
The study concludes with a call for increased research on eating disorders in adolescent males, particularly focusing on the relationship between muscularity-oriented eating goals and binge eating. Dr. Nagata stresses the importance of early intervention, encouraging teenagers experiencing eating disorder symptoms to “seek professional help” and advocating for interdisciplinary support, including mental health, medical, and nutritional guidance.
These findings underscore the need for comprehensive support systems to address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth, particularly in the realm of mental health and eating disorders.