Adolescents experience unique stressors. In addition to facing stress associated with family issues, childhood experiences, and academic concerns, they also face stress related to peer acceptance and identity formation. The teen years represent a time when children begin to discover who they are. They acknowledge their social, personal, and sexual identities. Also, children of various ethnic backgrounds may find themselves in settings with other ethnic groups for the first time in their lives. All of these factors combine to create a distinct pattern of stress for adolescents. It is during adolescence that many psychological problems first develop. Issues with substance misuse, depression, anxiety, and eating and dieting may manifest as problematic during adolescence for many young people experiencing stress. Eating problems are especially concerning as maladaptive eating behaviors can carry over into adulthood, putting people at increased risk for long term physical health risks including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Therefore, understanding the risk factors for eating problems in adolescents could help in the formation of interventions targeted at specific youth groups.
S. Bryn Austin of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard University wanted to better identify which teens were most at risk for negative eating behaviors as a result of stress. She looked at how sex, race, and sexual orientation affected eating patterns in a sample of over 24,000 high school students and found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) teens were more likely to use diet pills and engage in purging behavior regardless of their sex. She also found that bisexual teens were more likely to be obese than heterosexual teens.
Further, Austin discovered that sexual orientation had a significant impact on eating disorder risk. Regardless of the ethnicity of the teens, bisexual and lesbian girls had a threefold risk of using negative eating strategies, including dieting, purging, and diet pills, when compared to heterosexual girls. Also, the bisexual and homosexual boys were four times more likely to adopt negative eating behaviors when compared to heterosexual boys. Ethnicity also played a part in increasing eating issue risk. Specifically, Asian- and African-American girls had fewer eating problems than white girls, while African-American and Latino boys had more eating problems than white boys. These findings demonstrate that particular stressors that are common in certain groups of young people could contribute to eating problems. Clinicians, parents, and educators should be mindful of these stressors across various groups of adolescents. “In addition,” said Austin, “Interventions that are appropriate for sexual orientation minority youths of diverse ethnicities are urgently needed to eliminate stressors and other factors contributing to these disparities.”
Austin, S. B., et al. (2013). Eating disorder symptoms and obesity at the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation in US high school students. American Journal of Public Health 103.2 (2013): E16-22. ProQuest. Web.
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