Teased and bullied for being LGBTQ; and then teased and bullied for one’s body weight. At times even by fellow LGBTQ people.
This is according to a study, published in Pediatric Obesity, that noted that adolescents who identify as LGBTQ often face double victimization and bullying because of their sexual and/or gender identity, and because of their body weight – in some cases at higher rates than previous reports of weight-based bullying in heterosexual youth.
The research from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut involved 9,838 adolescents who participated in the 2017 LGBTQ National Teen Survey, a comprehensive survey conducted in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to assess victimization, health behaviors, family relationships, and experiences of LGBTQ adolescents across the US.
Researchers found that across sexual identities, 44% to 70% of LGBTQ teens reported weight-based teasing from family members, 41% to 57% reported weight-based teasing from peers, and as many as 44% reported weight-based teasing from both family members and peers.
Also, approximately one in 4 teens reported these experiences at school, and body weight was the third most common reason that these adolescents indicated they were teased or treated badly (behind sexual orientation and gender identity).
“Body weight is often absent in school-based anti-bullying policies, and our findings suggest that heightened awareness of this issue may be warranted in school settings to ensure that weight-based victimization is adequately addressed and that sexual and gender minority youth are recognized as potentially vulnerable targets of weight-based bullying,” said Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the UConn Rudd Center, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut, and the study’s lead author.
Study co-authors include Rebecca Puhl, Ryan Watson, and Mary Himmelstein of the University of Connecticut.
Adolescent obesity rates currently reach 20% in the US alone, and weight-based victimization has become a widespread form of mistreatment experienced by youth. This victimization has harmful health consequences, including increased risk for depression, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, poor body image, disordered eating, harmful weight control behaviors, and lower levels of physical activity.
Although there is mounting evidence of weight-based victimization in youth, there has been little attention to this issue in LGBTQ adolescents, despite their high prevalence of overweight and obesity and increased risk for victimization.
“These issues warrant attention among healthcare providers, parents, educators, and all others who interact with adolescents. Increased consideration must be given to the intersection of social identities related to body weight, sexual orientation, and gender identity in youth,” said Ryan Watson, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the study.
The study also found that regardless of the source (family or peers) of weight-based victimization, sexual and gender minority adolescents face these experiences across diverse body weight categories. The highest rates of weight-based victimization occurred in LGBTQ adolescents with obesity (as many as 77% reported these experiences), but high percentages of teens at lower body weight categories were also vulnerable – 55-64% of those with an underweight BMI reported weight-based victimization.
The researchers recommend for healthcare providers to be aware that sexual and gender minority youth can be vulnerable to weight-based victimization, regardless of their body size. The study similarly suggests that it may be warranted to screen LGBTQ youth for their victimization experiences not only in the context of sexual and gender identity, but also in the context of body weight.