Monday, June 26, 2023

Weight-Based Discrimination Linked to Disordered Eating in Sexual Minority Young Adults

Three in ten young adults who identify as members of sexual minorities experience weight-based discrimination and may have a higher risk of disordered eating behaviors as a result, a study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders has found.

“Overall, given the elevated risk of [disordered eating behaviors] among sexual minority adolescents and young adults, the effects of weight-based discrimination must be considered when developing eating disorders prevention efforts and effective clinical care for this underserved population,” wrote Allegra R. Gordon, Sc.D., M.P.H., of Boston University School of Public Health and colleague.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,257 sexual minority women and men aged 18 to 31 years (91% White) who had participated in the U.S. Growing Up Today Study as children and adolescents and responded to a follow-up questionnaire in 2013. Among survey respondents, 47% identified as mostly heterosexual, 14% as gay or lesbian, 9% as bisexual, and 29% as completely heterosexual with a previous sexual minority identity or history of same-gender sexual partners.

Three outcomes were assessed by self-report in 2013 for the previous year: unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as using diet pills, laxatives, or vomiting to lose or to maintain weight; overeating, such as an episode of eating large amounts of food without feeling a loss of control; and binge eating, such as an episode of overeating accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. The participants completed a modified version of the Everyday Discrimination Scale regarding the frequency of types of unfair treatment they experienced. Those who reported experiencing unfair treatment were then asked to identify the reasons for their unfair treatment, such as age, race, sexual orientation, or weight.

Overall, 31% of the participants reported that they had experienced weight-based discrimination. Nine percent reported engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors, 3% reported overeating, and 6% reported binge eating. Unhealthy weight control behaviors, overeating, and binge eating were two to four times more prevalent among participants who had experienced any weight-based discrimination compared with those who did not experience such discrimination.

“[P]ublic health surveillance surveys should monitor [disordered eating behaviors] and weight-based discrimination as key social stressors with implications for health across the life course,” Gordon and colleagues wrote. “Medical education should be expanded to include the importance of weight-based discrimination as a social determinant of health … with relevance to patients of diverse body sizes, racial/ethnic backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientation identities.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article "Binge-Eating Risk Factors In Adolescents Vary by Socioeconomic Status".

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