Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Tied to Eating Disorders

According to new study, both sexual disorientation and gender identity are tied to the development of eating disorders. Transgender and non-transgender lesbian, gay and bisexual college students are at the highest risk for eating disorders.

The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.


Researchers analyzed:

  • Students at 223 U.S. universities
  • 200,000 heterosexuals
  • 5,000  “unsure,”
  • 15,000 gay, lesbian or bisexual
  • 479 transgender

This is the first study to include enough transgender people to make meaningful comparisons to other gender identities.

Students self-reported their mental health, substance use, sexual behavior, and nutrition history on questionnaires distributed between 2008 and 2011. Researchers reported whether or not they had been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anorexia or bulimia within the previous year, and if they had vomited, taken laxatives or diet pills over the past month.

The results:

  • Cisgender (non-transgender) men, and heterosexual men had the lowest rates of disorder
  • Sexual minority men and women, and trans people had the highest rates
  • About 1.5% of the students said they were diagnosed with an eating disorder during the previous year
  • Almost 3% had vomited or used laxatives
  • More than 3% had used diet pills during the previous month

Reports were all most common among transgender students and least common among cisgender heterosexual male students. Transgender students were more than four times as likely to report an eating disorder diagnosis as cisgender heterosexual women. Transgender students were also twice as likely to report using diet pills and more than twice as likely to report vomiting or using laxatives during the previous month.

In a previous study, found that transgender people may strive for thinness as an attempt to suppress features of their birth gender, or accentuate features of their self-identified gender
Important to recognize how eating disorders can be related to gender dysphoria and body dissatisfaction among transgender people.