Weight bul­ly­ing leads to poor health for LGBTQ youth

The News-Times - - NEIGHBORS - By Brian Zahn

NEW HAVEN — A study re­leased to­day by the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut’s Rudd Cen­ter for Food Pol­icy & Obe­sity found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween weight-based bul­ly­ing of LGBT youth and sub­stance abuse and poor men­tal health.

Lead re­searcher Re­becca Puhl said the study is among the first to ex­plore the link be­tween these fac­tors.

“This study is re­ally the first largescale ev­i­dence of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween weight-based teas­ing and bul­ly­ing and ad­verse health be­hav­iors in sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth,” she said.

Although there is a wide body of re­search into how sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth have worse men­tal health out­comes and higher rates of sub­stance abuse — such as a 2008 re­port pub­lished in the jour­nal “Ad­dic­tion” on 14 stud­ies, con­clud­ing that on av­er­age les­bian, gay and bi­sex­ual youth were on av­er­age 190 per­cent more likely to use to­bacco, al­co­hol or il­licit drugs — Puhl said the ef­fects of how weight-based vic­tim­iza­tion could ex­ac­er­bate the is­sues for sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth had not been ex­plored.

Us­ing data col­lected from 17,112 teenage re­spon­dents to an on­line sur­vey, Puhl and co-re­searchers Mary Him­mel­stein and Ryan Wat­son found that more than half of re­spon­dents in­di­cated they had been sub­jected to weight-based bul­ly­ing or teas­ing from their peers and/or their fam­i­lies. Within their life­times, 55.6 per­cent re­ported their had con­sumed al­co­hol, 27.1 re­ported con­sum­ing al­co­hol in the last 30 days and 9.6 per­cent re­ported binge drink­ing in the last 30 days.

How­ever, those who re­ported weight-based vic­tim­iza­tion from their fam­i­lies were 27 per­cent more likely to have done binge drink­ing in the last 30 days and were 23 per­cent more likely to have smoked a ci­garette in the last 30 days.

Ad­di­tion­ally, sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth ex­pe­ri­enc­ing weight­based vic­tim­iza­tion had over­all lower self-rated health out­comes such as de­pres­sive symp­toms, self-es­teem and perceived con­trol over stres­sors than sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth who did not re­port weight-based vic­tim­iza­tion.

A Rudd Cen­ter study re­leased in Fe­bru­ary also con­cluded that sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth are more likely than their het­ero­sex­ual peers to ex­pe­ri­ence weight-based vic­tim­iza­tion re­gard­less of their body weight.

“Whether they are be­ing teased for a higher or lower body weight, they’re both vul­ner­a­ble to these health con­se­quences,” Puhl said.

Puhl said most of her rec­om­men­da­tions from the study cen­ter around ed­u­ca­tion: both in ed­u­cat­ing fam­i­lies about the harm done by weight-based teas­ing and bul­ly­ing and cre­at­ing more com­pre­hen­sive anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion poli­cies in schools.

In New Haven, an LGBTQ Youth Task Force formed about one year ago, and its mem­bers have vis­ited Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­bers to make rec­om­men­da­tions to cre­ate more in­clu­sive schools. Mem­bers have urged the school board to cre­ate poli­cies that fun­da­men­tally re­spect and ac­knowl­edge sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity iden­ti­ties.

“It’s big­ger than just bul­ly­ing,” said Fair Haven Mid­dle School teacher David Wein­reb, a task force mem­ber at a school gov­er­nance com­mit­tee meet­ing on May 28.

“A 14-year-old doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know what their le­gal right is and doesn’t know how to ask for it,” said mem­ber Kelly Wuz­zardo.

Puhl said the study’s find­ings could also bet­ter in­form med­i­cal care of sex­ual and gen­der mi­nor­ity youth.

“There’s also an im­pli­ca­tion for clin­i­cians and health care providers work­ing with youth or ado­les­cents to as­sess for weight-based vic­tim­iza­tion ex­pe­ri­ences,” she said.

Puhl said she be­lieves lon­gi­tu­di­nal stud­ies should be a fu­ture in­quiry.

“This was a one time-pe­riod study,” she said. “But we need to un­der­stand what this means for health over time.”

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