Eating disorders can impact anyone, but a new survey shows over half of LGBTQ+ youth identify as having an eating disorder. This disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ+ population adds to other heightened stressors and mental health risks, including the stigma surrounding these identities and the pressures of coming out.
The survey, conducted by The Trevor Project, the National Eating Disorders Association, and Reasons Eating Disorder Center, found that of 1,034 13- to 24-year-old LGBTQ+ adolescents, 54 percent had been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 75 percent suspected they had an eating disorder. The number of diagnosed eating disorders spiked among transgender youth, of whom 71 percent were diagnosed with an eating disorder.
The most prevalent eating disorder among straight, bisexual, gay, and lesbian participants was anorexia, but fasting, skipping meals, and limited eating were common across all the surveyed sexual orientations and gender identities.
Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, suggests in a preface to the survey that these heightened rates were likely due to the “unique stressors that LGBTQ-identified people experience.”
Paley writes that these stressors, including coming out and school or workplace harassment, “can impact levels of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), LGBTQ+ folks face additional challenges in addressing their eating disorder with health care providers, including lack of training and understanding about LGBTQ+ related health issues as well as potential prejudices. These factors, especially when combined, can influence the development of an eating disorder and comorbid conditions.
The survey found that one of these comorbid conditions is often suicidal ideation. Of the participants diagnosed with an eating disorder, 58 percent reported they had considered suicide. This percentage increases dramatically for those with bulimia (96 percent) and anorexia nervosa (92 percent). When the general LGBTQ+ population is already three times as likely to experience a mental health condition and four times more likely to attempt suicide, these findings pose a significant risk to the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
“We hope that this research will shine a [light] on the prevalence of eating disorders and disordered eating among LGBTQ youth,” Paley writes, “and lead to actions that will help the lives of people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”