Eating disorders have long been a problem in the United States. These disorders have been part of the psychiatric literature for many years. In recent decades, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals have allocated more time and resources towards the study, treatment and prevention of these disorders. Recent studies are attempting to explain a particular pattern of eating disorders in U.S. society. Researchers have found that more than half of young LGBTQ people between the ages of 13 and 24 have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Both the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), and The Trevor Project, (LGBTQ suicide prevention organization) state that the report is based on online surveys of 1,034 young people. Among the 46 percent of LGBTQ youth who were surveyed and had never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, 54 percent reported that they at some point suspected they suffered from an undiagnosed eating disorder. Out of all the survey’s respondents, 75 percent said they had either been diagnosed with an eating disorder or suspected they had one at some point in their life. This research displays the need for additional studies in this area.
The most common disordered eating behavior from the survey was skipping meals and eating very little food in general. Not surprisingly, anorexia nervosa was the most prevalent eating disorder. The data also displayed a correlation between young LGBTQ individuals with eating disorders and suicide. Out of the individuals who had been diagnosed with bulimia, a shocking 96 percent had considered suicide. On a similar note, 66 percent of survey respondents who had stated that they had considered suicide already had been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
An earlier study in 2007 had explored at the prevalence of eating disorders in lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women. Part of the research examined associations between participation in the LGBTQ community and eating disorder prevalence in gay and bisexual men. The research was not clear as to why there was a high prevalence of eating disorders among gay and bisexual men. Researchers in this study found that gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher incidence of eating disorders when compared to heterosexual men.
Studies in 2007 were the first to assess DSM diagnostic categories, gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher prevalence of lifetime full syndrome bulimia, subclinical bulimia, and any subclinical eating disorder. At the time, gay men are thought to only represent 5 percent of the total male population in the United States. Yet, for males who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, 42 percent of them identify as gay. For people who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or mostly heterosexual, they possessed binge eating, purging and laxative abuse rates that were much higher than their heterosexual peers. Data shows that for LGBTQ youth, as early as age 12, they are at a higher risk of engaging in disordered eating behavior.
So why is there a higher occurrence of eating disorders in the LGBTQ community?
Some researchers argue that because of stress from living as a minority, unhealthy eating habits are more common in the LGBTQ community. Eating behaviors such as binge eating and anorexia nervosa are symptoms of the general social stress that LGBTQ individuals experience as minorities. Thankfully, new studies and technology are making it easier to understand the physical impulses that surround unhealthy eating behaviors. Also, a broader acceptance of LGBTQ people in American culture should hopefully lower this statistic. The election of the first openly gay governor in Colorado shows that U.S. society is changing.
However, there are still unique stressors that people in the LGBTQ community are forced to face every day. These stressors create higher levels of anxiety and depression. This, in turn, can encourage unhealthy coping mechanisms that creates eating disorders and/or substance abuse. Some of the stressors that may encourage the development of eating disorders include:
- Internalizing negative messages.
- Living in fear from being harassed which can develop into PTSD.
- Stress from discrimination.
- Living as a runaway and/or experiencing homelessness.
Healthcare professionals who have direct experience with diagnosing and treating eating disorders can help people successfully recover from an eating disorder infliction. For additional information or questions about bulimia and anorexia, please contact the staff at Toledo Center (RCC). Their Eating Disorders Programs provide a full range of treatment options for both adolescents and adults. Their facility is located Northwest Ohio in the town of Sylvania, OH.
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