Associations among relationship status, gender, and sexual attraction in Australian adolescents' eating pathology

Savannah R. Roberts, Phillipa Hay, Kay Bussey, Nora Trompeter, Alexandra Lonergan, Deborah Mitchison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: Engaging in romantic relationships in adolescence may inadvertently increase participation in appearance culture and the risk for eating pathology. Little research has considered this effect, particularly as it relates to adolescents' gender identity and sexual attraction. Therefore, this study examined the associations among relationship status, gender, and sexual attraction in adolescents' eating pathology. Methods: Data from the first wave of the EveryBODY study, a large sample of Australian adolescents aged 11–19 years (n = 3262, Mage = 15.00, 53.80% girls), were used. Participants reported their relationship status and eating pathology (fasting, purging, binge eating, driven exercise, steroid use, and shape/weight concerns) using an online survey. Results: Logistic regressions adjusting for age and BMI percentile revealed that romantic relationships were associated with higher adjusted odds (AORs) for reporting clinical frequency/severity threshold of fasting, purging, steroid use, and shape and weight concerns (AORs: 1.34–3.68). Relative to boys, girls had higher adjusted odds of reporting clinical frequency/severity threshold of all eating disorder features (AORs: 1.47–7.40), except for steroid use for muscle gain. Adolescents who reported same-sex attraction, were unsure of their sexual attraction, or did not endorse any sexual attraction had greater adjusted odds of reporting clinical frequency/severity threshold of fasting, purging, and shape and weight concerns (AORs: 1.35–1.83) than those with only other-sex sexual attraction. Interactions among relationship status, gender, and sexual attraction were nonsignificant. Conclusions: Romantic experience emerged as a novel correlate for adolescents' eating pathology. Future research should uncover the contextual factors within relationships that may contribute to this association. Public Significance: The initiation of romantic relationships is normative during adolescence. However, adolescents' romantic desirability is often determined by their physical appearance, increasing the risk for eating pathology. Among a large sample of Australian adolescents, romantic involvement was associated with greater likelihood of clinical threshold eating pathology for adolescent boys and girls, regardless of sexual attraction. It is urgent to identify the factors within romantic relationships that are associated with eating pathology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Early online date24 Nov 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • adolescents
  • disordered eating
  • gender
  • romantic relationships
  • sexual minorities

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