Children and adolescents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) have a higher risk of mental health concerns compared to heterosexual kids and teens. New findings indicate that young people in the LGBTQ community may also have a higher risk of some physical health issues, including increased rates of type 1 diabetes among transgender teens diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Research on Diabetes Risk Among Transgender Youths
The journal Pediatric Diabetes published landmark research from the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in 2020. The study team reviewed the medical records of and collected data about patients ages 10 to 21 who were diagnosed with both gender dysphoria and type 1 diabetes. The authors found that children and teens who have gender dysphoria are more than nine times more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than this age group as a whole. Further, the diabetes transgender study participants displayed better control over their blood glucose when they also received mental health treatment at the gender dysphoria clinic at UW.
Older research supports the idea that increased emotional stress, such as the stress experienced by children who have gender dysphoria, can trigger the development of type 1 diabetes. A Swedish study published by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in 2016 followed 100,000 families with children ages 2 and 14 who did not have type 2 diabetes when the study began. They found that kids who experienced major stressors before age 14, such as conflicts within the family, changes in the family structure, lack of parental employment or social service intervention, were more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than kids who did not experience similar events. In fact, the study authors reported a 300% increase in the rate of this disease among the group who experienced stressors.
See also: Why Have Type 1 Diabetes Diagnoses Gone Up During the Pandemic?
Factors Contributing to Diabetes Risk Among LGBTQ+ Teens
According to a study published in the journal Pediatric Diabetes in 2018, LGBTQ+ teens have a higher risk for developing diabetes. This may correlate with the higher obesity rates and lower rates of physical activity among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer adolescents compared with their heterosexual counterparts.
Other risk factors that contribute to metabolic health issues such as diabetes in this population include:
- High levels of emotional distress and discomfort, especially in situations where transgender youth experience rejection from family members or peers
- Higher rates of depression and other mental health concerns
- Higher rates of risk behaviors such as drinking and smoking
Compounding this issue, many transgender diabetes teens and young adults avoid seeking health care because they feel shame or stigma associated with their gender presentation.
Strategies to Reduce Diabetes Risk Among Transgender Youth
Adolescents who identify with the LGBTQ+ population and parents of transgender teens can lower the risk for diabetes by:
- Seeking health care from medical providers who have registered with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health or the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. Do not continue seeking a doctor if he or she makes you feel uncomfortable or does not seem to take your gender identity or medical concerns seriously.
- Bringing a trusted person with you to your medical appointments. A parent, family member, or close friend can help you take notes to remember what the doctor says and ask questions about things you do not understand.
- Offering support to your child by using their preferred name and pronouns. Greater Good, a publication from the University of California Berkeley, reports that parental support can help prevent mental health issues and associated physical health problems such as diabetes, among transgender youths.
Lifestyle changes can also stave off the development of type 2 diabetes for many young people. Strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention include:
- Encouraging weight loss if a child or loved one is overweight or obese
- Treating underlying health conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Exercising regularly, at least five days a week for at least 30 minutes each session
- Limiting sugary foods and drinks such as soda
- Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains
- Eating at the dinner table as a family rather than in front of screens
- Using fun activities instead of food as a reward for good behavior or good grades
- Allowing your kids to participate in the process of shopping for and cooking healthy meals
- Working out as a family by riding bikes together, having a dance party, or taking a fitness class
Other Health Disparities Among LGBTQ+ Youth
Parents and transgender teens should have a holistic view of health and understand the various health impacts for this population. According to the federal Healthy People 2020 Initiative, some of the most significant risks for this group include:
- Suicide rate up to three times higher than the rate for heterosexual teens
- A higher rate of homelessness than the general population
- A higher risk for STDs than individuals who are not transgender
- A higher risk for victimization, mental health issues, and suicide than individuals who are not transgender
Transgender diabetics are also less likely to have health insurance than non-transgender individuals, which creates another barrier to seeking appropriate medical care.
Understanding Gender Dysphoria
Some families struggle to understand when their child shows signs that they may question their biological gender. According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria occurs when a person experiences significant distress that impacts daily life related to the desire to change genders.
A psychiatrist may diagnose a child with gender dysphoria with the presence of most of these characteristics for at least six months:
- Strong aversion to one’s own physicality
- Adamant rejection of activities, games, or toys one associates with the assigned gender
- Strong desire for friends and companions of the opposite gender
- Tendency to take on opposite-gender roles in play
- Strong desire to wear clothing designed for the opposite gender
- Insistence that they are the preferred gender rather than the assigned gender
A gender dysphoria diagnosis for teens and young adults requires the presence of most of these characteristics for at least six months:
- Strong desire to remove one’s primary and secondary sex characteristics
- Lack of congruence between the assigned gender and the individual’s gender presentation
- Strong inclination that one has the reactions and feelings more typical of the opposite gender
- Strong desire to live and be seen as a person of the opposite gender
- Strong desire for the opposite gender’s sex characteristics
A teen or young adult who is transgender diabetic will not necessarily desire or require surgery until they are older, if at all. Often, these individuals seek treatment with a combination of hormone therapy and counseling.
If your children have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or come out to you as transgender and subsequently developed type 1 diabetes, careful blood glucose monitoring can help prevent physical complications. Streamline your young adult’s life with home delivery of all the diabetes supplies they need from MedEnvios Healthcare. Explore our comprehensive catalog today.
Image Credit: AtlasStudio/Shutterstock