The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog > New Study Shows LGBT Youth Experience Greater Disordered Eating

Posted on February 19th, 2013 by Michelle in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

Cover of American Journal of Public Health

Feb. 2013 cover of the American Journal of Public Health

Eating disorders and obesity in adolescence put young people at risk for numerous immediate- and long-term health problems. Therefore, it is important for researchers to identify groups who are at elevated risk in order to appropriately target interventions. A new study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health is the first examination of eating disorders, obesity, and sexual orientation in US high school students. Authors included Dr. S. Bryn Austin and Dr. Jerel Calzo from Boston Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School, Dr. Michelle Birkett from the IMPACT Program and Northwestern University, Dr. Lauren Nelson from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, and Dr. Bethany Everett from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This study utilized Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System Survey data, which is collected biennially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the national health of youth. The study pooled together data from multiple states and cities to collect a sample of nearly 25,000 individuals. The health disparities of youth who identified as a sexual minority were then examined, while controlling for birth sex and ethnicity.

Researchers found that:

• Lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified girls and boys were more likely to purge and use diet pills versus heterosexual peers.
• Lesbians were four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to purge and use diet pills.
• Bisexual boys were most likely to purge and use diet pills, with over six times the odds of purging and diet pill use versus heterosexual peers.
• In addition to having increased risk of disordered eating, bisexual girls and boys were over twice as likely to be obese than their heterosexual peers.
• Interactions between race and sexual identity were examined, but no significant interactions were found.

The authors conclude that disordered eating may be one way in which youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender may cope with the stress of having a stigmatized identity. These disordered eating patterns in youth may continue through adulthood and contribute to long-term health problems.


Austin, S.B, Nelson, L.A., Birkett, M., Calzo, J.P., Everett, B. (2013). Eating Disorder Symptoms and Obesity at the Intersections of Gender, Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation: Results from a Large Sample of U.S. High School Students. American Journal of Public Health, 103 (2), e16-e22. 

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