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Trans students are hit hard with eating disorders

by Mina Mazumder September 8, 2015
Trans students are hit hard with eating disorders

New study reveals body image stress as a leading cause of eating disorders

According to a study conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health, 15.82 per cent of transgender college students are diagnosed with an eating disorder compared to only 1.85 per cent of cisgender heterosexual women. Cisgender refers to people who identify as the gender they were given at birth.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

The study included data from 289,024 students from 223 American universities to analyze student’s eating habits. According to the study, “qualitative research suggests transgender persons may be at increased risk of body dissatisfaction, which may predispose them to disordered eating.” Many of them also face high amounts of discrimination, which is significantly linked to poor mental health within the population, the study said.

Only one study has investigated a link between gender identity and disordered eating using transgender and cisgender groups, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. That particular study explored “conflicted gender identity” and found that women who had conflicted gender identity scored higher in a test designed to check for eating disorders than their counterparts who were cisgender.

The results from the Journal of Adolescent Health study also reveal that transgender students were at greater risk of using diet pills in the past month, vomiting episodes and laxative use than heterosexual cisgender women. Studies also show that transgender students who were unsure about their sexual orientation had greater rates of past-year eating disorder diagnosis including self-induced vomiting and use of diet or laxative pills compared to heterosexual trans-students.

There are many reasons why eating disorders affect transgender individuals the most, according to the study. According to one of the authors of the study, Dr. Alexis E. Duncan, a potential explanation for the high number is because people who are transgender use eating disorders as a way to suppress certain ‘gendered features’ such as transgender women wanting to lose weight in order to conform to societal ideas of feminine slimness.

Sam Dylan Finch, a transgender writer and queer activist from the San Francisco Bay area, has expressed thoughts on this issue. “As a trans person, I experience body dysphoria. This means that I have pretty significant distress around certain parts of my body because I associate them with a gender that I don’t identify with,” he said in an article on Clap Way.

These studies are only the beginning of further investigation between disordered eating and gender identity and/or sexual orientation. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, mental health professionals must be aware their transgender patients are at a higher risk of eating disorder behaviours and should take action for proper screening practices to help these individuals.

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