Photo via Pexels

LGB Teens Found More Likely to Binge Eat

LGB teenagers were found to be more likely than their straight peers to struggle with binge-eating disorder (BED) and binge eating behaviors in new study from the University of California at San Francisco.  

Binge-eating is the most common eating disorder in the U.S. and entails eating unusually large amounts of food without the ability or willingness to stop. Three to five percent of the U.S. population – up to 16.6. million people – struggle with it. BED may lead to an array of medical and psychiatric problems like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and elevated suicidality. 

The study was conducted with 10,000 participants, the mean age of whom was 12. Among participants, one percent had BED and 6.3 percent exhibited binge-eating behaviors.  

Lead author Dr. Jason Nagata argued in the report, titled “The social epidemiology of binge-eating disorder and behaviors in early adolescents,” that this increase in binge eating among the LGBTQ community could be related to higher instances of bullying, discrimination, stigma over sexual orientation, and internalized homophobia experienced by queer youth, which could contribute to lowered self-esteem and disordered eating. 

“Binge-eating can result in psychological effects like depression and anxiety, and long-term physical health problems, including diabetes and heart disease,” Nagata wrote. “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.” 

These findings were in line with the findings of other studies, including a 2018 study from the U.K. which found that gay and bisexual teen boys were 12.5 times more likely to binge eat compared to their straight peers. 

Given these findings, Nagata suggests that future studies should explore “the prevention, early identification, and management strategies of binge-eating behaviors for gay and bisexual adolescents.” 

Other factors that increased instances of BED included class and ethnicity; teenagers from low-income families – under $75,000 – and those of Native American descent also had higher odds of BED and binge-eating behaviors. Despite the fact that a “narrow, female-specific lens” persists when discussing eating disorders, this study actually found that men had higher odds of binge-eating behaviors than their female counterparts – behaviors that included partaking in “cheat meals,” eating episodes that temporarily stray from their normal eating routines. These episodes can entail anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 calories consumed.  

“In male adults and adolescents, body dissatisfaction is often tied to a drive for muscularity and larger size as opposed to thinness,” Nagata wrote. “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.” 

These findings emphasize the necessity of more research, as well as screening and treatments made specifically with these vulnerable populations in mind. 

“The results highlight the need for further investigation into adolescent screening for eating disorders, specifically those involving binge-eating behaviors… These findings illustrate the extent to which eating disorders present differently in diverse populations, thus contributing to underdiagnosis and under recognition of disordered eating,” the study concludes. “Males, sexual minorities, and low-income populations require targeted screening and intervention strategies to support those who may be at risk for disordered eating. Given the barriers to care that many people with BED face, clinicians must better understand culturally sensitive strategies for screening, identification, and management of this disorder.”

You can find the full study online here