Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are purging, fasting and using pills to lose or control their weight while the rates for eating disorders are declining for straight youths, according to a new survey.
In data of US youth aged 12 to 18 from 1999 to 2013, it found gay males are five times more likely to use diet pills compared to straight teens.
The study, by the University of BC, also found the gap in the rate of eating disorders increased between lesbian and bisexual girls and their straight peers in the 14-year period.
One-third of bisexual girls also reported purging, which stayed roughly the same from 1999 to 2013. The rate increased over the same period for lesbians, while decreasing for straight girls from 8% to 5% over the same period.
Ryan Watson, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at UBC’s Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre, described the differences are ‘alarming’.
His research suggests healthy eating programs are not reaching lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in the same way they are reaching straights.
‘I’d want parents, schools and clinicians to know there are these big disparities for this population,’ he said.
‘We need to know it’s more nuanced than just LGB(TQ) people have higher rates of disordered eating, but you need to consider the nuanced factor and see that lesbians and bisexuals actually may need to be approached differently.’
Portia De Rossi, Ellen DeGeneres’ wife and star of Arrested Development, has spoken openly about suffering from anorexia and bulimia from the age of 12. She said she would often try to survive on only 300 calories a day.
‘I mean, I’m 12 years old. So then I vomit. Erase the feelings with food, erase the food by vomiting,’ she wrote in her book Unbearable Lightness.
‘But you’re still left with the shame.’
Watch her speak about it on Ellen and It Got Better here: