Does Childhood Gender Nonconformity Predict Adult Disordered Eating Behavior? Annalisa Adams Faculty Sponsor: Cynthia Erickson, Ph.D.
Does Childhood Gender Nonconformity Predict Adult Disordered Eating Behavior? It is common for children to display some instances of gender nonconformity Most gender nonconforming children become cisgender adults. Our presentation is interested in whether these instances of childhood gender nonconformity are linked to adult disordered eating behavior.
Background It is common for children to display some instances of gender nonconformity (i.e. preferring the toys, clothing, or playmates societally associated with a gender other than that which the child was assigned at birth). Most children grow out of their childhood gender nonconformity and identify as cisgender adults (Roberts, Rosario, Corliss, Koenen , & Austin, 2012). Recalled childhood gender nonconformity has been linked with childhood abuse and lifetime PTSD risk (Roberts, et al., 2012). Disordered eating has been linked to current gender dysphoria, but research has yet to examine the link between childhood gender nonconformity and adult disordered eating behavior (Watson, Veale, & Saewyc , 2017; Cifra , Chen, & Greenberg, 2019).
Research question or hypothesis If adult gender dysphoria is linked to disordered eating behavior, will gender identity or level of dysphoria) be linked to adult disordered eating behavior? The hypothesis in this study is Higher scores on the recalled childhood gender nonconformity measure will predict higher scores on the disordered eating measure.
Method: Materials Materials EAT 26: Eating Attitudes Scale Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale 4 question childhood gender nonconformity scale derived from the DSM 5 Regardless of your current gender identity, before puberty did you ever: 1. Feel a strong desire to be a different gender than the one assigned to you at birth? 2. Feel a strong preference for the clothes, toys, and activities stereotypically associated with a gender other than the one assigned to you at birth? 3. Feel a strong preference for playmates of a gender other than the one assigned to you at birth? 4. Feel a strong dislike of your sexual anatomy and/or a strong desire for different sexual anatomy?
Method: Procedure Participants received a link to an online Qualtrics survey. After informed consent was received, participants took the following survey: Demographics EAT 26 Anxiety Scale Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale Childhood Gender Nonconformity Scale
Method: Participants Participants were recruited in two ways: The MSU Denver Introductory Psychology participant pool. Participants in this group received course credit for their participation (n=69). Snowball emails sent to friends and family. Participants in this group received no compensation (n=44).
Self identified demographics Gender Male Female Transgender Other Sexual Orientation Heterosexual Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Other
Childhood Gender Nonconformity is Associated with Disordered Eating Behaviors An independent samples t test showed that the group with childhood gender nonconformity had significantly higher scores on the EAT 26 (M=15.3, SD=10.8) than the group with no childhood gender nonconformity (M=9.21, SD=7.55). t (100)= 2.57, p =.0012 .60
Other results While the independent sample t test showed higher overall EAT 26 scores in the group with childhood gender nonconformity, the relationship between childhood gender nonconformity and the EAT 26 subscales is interesting. There is no significant difference on the EAT 26 Dieting or the EAT 26 Oral Aversion subscale between the childhood gender nonconformity and non childhood gender nonconformity subscale. However, the group with childhood gender nonconformity has significantly higher scores on the EAT 26 Bulimia subscale. t (100)= 4.29, p<.001.
Discussion This study showed a potential link between childhood gender nonconformity and adult disordered eating behavior. However, we were limited in a few major ways: Studying a small subset of the population makes it difficult to get a large enough sample size. Future research would benefit from a larger and/or more targeted sample. Due to the limited sample, we were unable to determine whether persistent dysphoria led to greater instances of adult disordered eating. A larger sample would help answer this question. Due to time and space constraints, we did not use a validated childhood gender nonconformity scale. Future research on this topic would benefit from the use of such a scale.
Conclusions As hypothesized, Individuals who expressed having childhood gender nonconformity were more likely to have disordered eating as an adult. Previous research has linked disordered eating with simultaneous gender dysphoria. This study built on such research to link childhood gender nonconformity with later adult disordered eating behavior. Given previous research linking childhood gender nonconformity to other adult behavioral health concerns, this result is unsurprising but important in that it could help families and practitioners be aware of potential eating disorders in at risk children and teenagers.
References Cifra , N., Michael Chen, Y., & Greenberg, K. (2019). 200. EAT 26 performance in gender health clinic patients. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64 (2), S102 S102. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.10.217 Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Corliss, H. L., Koenen , K. C., & Austin, S. B. (2012). Childhood gender nonconformity: A risk indicator for childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth. Pediatrics, 129 (3), 410 417. doi:10.1542/peds.2011 1804 Watson, R. J., Veale, J. F., & Saewyc , E. M. (2017). Disordered eating behaviors among transgender youth: Probability profiles from risk and protective factors. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50 (5), 515 522. doi:10.1002/eat.22627