A University of British Columbia study has found that the rate of lesbian and bisexual youth trying to lose weight through purging, fasting and taking diet pills is going up while the rate among their straight peers is declining.
The study looked at 26,000 students in Massachusetts in grades nine to 12 and the results were the same as a larger survey in B.C. that looked at students in grades seven to 12.
“Our study has found that it’s only getting worse for lesbian and bisexual girls,” lead researcher Ryan Watson said.
The Massachusetts survey found that young lesbians were twice as likely to purge and fast in 2013 when compared to data from 1999, while rates of purging in heterosexual females decreased in that time frame from eight per cent to five per cent. It’s not known why there is such a gap in the numbers, but Watson says it’s evident that lesbian and bisexual youth need targeted programs.
“Kids who are lesbian, gay or bisexual or transgender are at risk of various conditions, particularly mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. There also tend to be more risk-taking behaviours in this population and it really is about the support that they receive in the community,” B.C. Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Pei-Yoong Lam told The Province while adding that bullying and rejection related to sexual orientation can influence mental health.
In addition to bullying, the media’s representation of lesbians and bisexual women may play a part. Many famous queer women are slim, including Ruby Rose, Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne, and Portia de Rossi who has also suffered from an eating disorder. Then there are the fictional lesbians like Cosima and Delphine who also play into the media’s representation of the “hot lesbian.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder you can get help through nedic.ca (for Canadian readers), nationaleatingdisorders.org (for American readers), and worldeatingdisordersday.org (for international readers).