Eating disorders do not discriminate: Trans teens face greater risk

Children typically begin to label themselves as a male or female and begin to develop their gender identity around two or three years old, and in most cases, a child’s gender identity aligns with the sex they were born with. But, according to an analysis based on federal and state data, 0.6 percent of individuals (roughly 1.4 million people in the United States) identify as transgender, meaning their gender identity or gender role differs from those typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth—and the numbers are increasing, particularly among youth.

a teenager looking at their reflection in a mirror in a bathroom at school
(Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection.)

“The number of individuals who identify as transgender or use non-traditional gender terms to identify themselves has increased significantly within the past 10 years. With trans visibility growing in the United States, individuals are finding it increasingly safer and more accepting to come out and discuss their gender identity,” says Kyle Bonner, coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion Programs for Princeton Health “The shift in society’s acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals comes with a greater need to provide inclusive and compassionate care to the LGBTQ+ population.”

Research also shows that transgender children are at greater risk for developing eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, even more so than their cisgender peers (individuals whose gender identity and gender expression matches the sex they were assigned at birth).

For example, a 2015 study found that transgender college students were more than four times more likely than their cisgender female counterparts to report an eating disorder diagnosis such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and two times more likely to report eating disorder symptoms such as purging. Similar results were reported in a 2013 survey of high school youths, showing transgender students as nearly three times as likely than their cisgender peers to restrict eating, almost nine times as likely to use diet pills, and seven times as likely to use laxatives to control their weight.

The signs and symptoms of eating disorders are similar across the gender spectrum, but experts say that transgender people may face additional hurdles to diagnosis and treatment.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.