Eating disorders three times ‘more likely in young LGBT+ people’

Exclusive: ‘This highlights how society’s lack of acceptance can impact on your mental health and wellbeing,’ says campaigner

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
@mayaoppenheim
Monday 10 May 2021 18:13
comments
<p>Researchers found girls who are lesbian or bisexual are more than twice as likely as straight girls to have an eating disorder</p>

Researchers found girls who are lesbian or bisexual are more than twice as likely as straight girls to have an eating disorder

Leer en Español

Young LGBT+ people are three times more likely to have previously had an eating disorder or still be suffering from one, a new study has found.

A report, carried out by Just Like Us, a charity that supports young LGBT+ people, found girls who are lesbian or bisexual are more than twice as likely as straight girls to have an eating disorder.

The research, shared exclusively with The Independent, discovered one in five LGBT+ young people has had or currently has an eating disorder, significantly higher than the seven per cent of non-LGBT+ young people.

While a quarter of bisexual girls and young lesbians previously or currently have eating disorders, this was the case for around one in ten heterosexual girls and some 22 per cent of transgender young people.

Researchers found LGBT+ boys were substantially more likely to have an eating disorder – with 18 per cent of boys who identify as gay and 13 per cent of boys who are bisexual experiencing eating disorders, in comparison to three per cent of heterosexual boys.

Dominic Arnall, chief executive of Just Like Us, told The Independent: “It is devastating to discover that LGBT+ young people are three times more likely to have an eating disorder and this highlights how society’s lack of acceptance can impact on your mental health and wellbeing.

“LGBT+ young people are disproportionately experiencing tension at home, feeling far less safe in school, and struggling with greater mental health challenges.

“We hope that this Mental Health Awareness Week, schools and parents will send a positive message of acceptance to any young people that being LGBT+ is something to be celebrated and that they can be themselves at home and at school.”

He said LGBT+ young people grappling with mental health issues will find it “far harder to reach out” for help without “explicitly” understanding that it is “okay to be themselves”.

Researchers polled 2,934 secondary school pupils who were aged between 11 to 18 stretching across almost 400 schools and colleges, including 1,140 LGBT+ young people.

Some 1.25 million people are estimated to have an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa in the UK – with most being female. The figure includes those who binge eat, which can lead to being overweight.

Tom Quinn, of leading eating disorder charity Beat, said the latest research’s findings are “devastating but sadly not surprising”.

He added: “Past research has shown that there is a higher prevalence of eating disorders in the LGBT+ community, and we know those affected often face additional barriers when seeking and getting treatment.

“It is paramount that we understand the experience of eating disorders for the LGBT+ community so we are able to ensure services are accessible and providing the right support.”

The report comes after The Independent recently revealed demand for Beat has tripled during the pandemic with the service experiencing record levels of people coming forward to seek help.

Overall helpline demand soared by 173 per cent in around a year – rising from 4,277 contacts in February 2020 to 11,686 contacts in January this year.

Jess Griffiths, the charity’s clinical head, previously told The Independent eating disorders “tend to come from feeling out of control” and people are “feeling more out of control than ever” during the public health crisis. The psychotherapist, who has specialised in eating disorders for 16 years, also noted there is increased focus on food and fitness during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Health Survey for England, which polled 8,205 adults in 2019, discovered one in six adults in England has a possible eating disorder - with four per cent saying anxieties about food impinged their ability to work, carry out personal responsibilities or have a social life.

Some 28 per cent of women who were aged between 16 and 24 and 27 per cent of women from 25 to 34 had a potential eating disorder. While researchers found around one in eight male adults have a possible eating disorder.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments