Risky weight control behaviors common in gay, lesbian and bisexual teens


Boston. Mass. – November 4, 2013 - One-third of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as fasting for more than 24 hours, using diet pills and vomiting or using laxatives, Boston Children's Hospital researchers reported in a study published online Oct. 30 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"We suspected these behaviors were higher among sexual minority youth and discovered that they are alarmingly common," says Scott Hadland, MD, MPH, fellow in adolescent medicine at Boston Children's. The researchers reviewed data from 12,984 high school students who responded to the Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey in odd years from 2003 to 2009.

They compared gay, lesbian and bisexual youth with heterosexual teens and found that risky weight control behaviors are common among all teens. One in 10 heterosexual males and two in 10 heterosexual females fasted for 24 hours or longer, used diet pills or vomited or misused laxatives in the month preceding the survey. However, the behaviors are even more common in sexual minority youth, with approximately one in three reporting these behaviors.

"It may be that sexual minority youth face a unique set of stressors, such as social isolation and stigmatization," says Hadland. "Future studies should examine how these stressors interplay with risky weight control behaviors."

The researchers also observed misperceptions of weight among sexual minority youth. Compared with heterosexual females, lesbians and bisexuals females were more likely to self-perceive as being a healthy weight despite being overweight or obese. Compared with heterosexual males, heterosexual and bisexual males were more likely to see themselves as overweight despite being of healthy weight or underweight.

"We suspect body image ideals differ between sexual minority teens and their heterosexual peers," says Hadland.

Parents and clinicians should be aware that risky weight control behaviors are extremely common among all teens, according to Hadland. He recommends health care providers ask youth who identify themselves as sexual minority about these behaviors.

Another study, published Nov. 4 in JAMA Pediatrics, revealed that 17.9 percent of adolescent males are extremely concerned about their weight and physique, which was linked with risky behaviors and may reflect an eating disorder.

Erin Tornatore

Boston Children’s Hospital is the world’s largest research enterprise at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including seven members of the National Academy of Sciences, 13 members of the Institute of Medicine and 14 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Boston Children’s research community. Boston Children’s is a 395-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex, diverse needs of children and families. Boston Children’s is also the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about research and clinical innovation at Boston Children’s, visit: http://vectorblog.org.