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LGBTQ+ youth face higher risk of eating disorders, suicide, study says

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Story at a glance

  • About 9 percent of LGBTQ+ youth reported being diagnosed with an eating disorder, according to new research from the Trevor Project. An additional 29 percent said they had not been medically diagnosed but suspect they might have an eating disorder.
  • Black LGBTQ+ youth suspected they had an eating disorder at four times the rate of actually being diagnosed with one, according to the study.
  • Transgender boys and nonbinary youth assigned female at birth reported the highest rates of both being diagnosed with or suspecting they had an eating disorder.

Disordered eating is widespread among young LGBTQ+ people, new research suggests, taking a significant toll on their mental health and putting them at greater risk of suicide.

About 9 percent of LGBTQ+ youth ages 13 to 18 reported being diagnosed with an eating disorder, according to a Trevor Project study published Thursday. Another 29 percent said they had not been medically diagnosed but suspect they might have an eating disorder.

Overall, just less than 3 percent of adolescents in the U.S. aged 13 to 18 have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Black LGBTQ+ youth in particular suspected they had an eating disorder at four times the rate of actually being diagnosed with one, according to the study, which uses data from a national Trevor Project survey on LGBTQ+ youth mental health.

LGBTQ+ youth identifying as Native/Indigenous or multiracial reported the highest rates of eating disorder diagnoses, though another 33 percent of both groups said they suspected they had an eating disorder but had not been officially diagnosed.

Cisgender LGBTQ boys reported the lowest rates of both being diagnosed with or suspecting they had an eating disorder, while transgender boys and nonbinary youth assigned female at birth reported the highest.


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A 2016 study of disordered eating among trans people found that “body dissatisfaction,” which plays a prominent role in gender dysphoria, often manifests in disordered eating to suppress physical features associated with gender assigned at birth and accentuate features of gender identity.

LGBTQ+ youth diagnosed with an eating disorder were nearly four times as likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year compared to those who who had not been diagnosed, according to the study. The risk of suicide was also elevated among those who suspected they had an eating disorder but were never diagnosed.

“The strong relationship observed between eating disorders and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth underscores the need to create more inclusive, non-judgmental environments in which young people can feel comfortable discussing these experiences,” Amy Green, vice president of research for the Trevor Project, said Thursday in a statement. “Encouraging open, honest conversations around both eating disorders and mental health will help reduce stigma and improve suicide prevention efforts.”

Green added that training programs for medical professionals should seek to improve cultural competency regarding youth identity, sexual orientation and race.

“Healthcare providers working with youth should routinely assess their risk for these potential mental health concerns and be cognizant of the ways the presentation of symptoms and underlying causes may vary based on gender identity and race/ethnicity,” she said.


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