Conference Coverage

Gender-diverse teens face barriers to physical activity


AT PAS 2023

Concerns about negative judgment and lack of inclusive facilities topped the list of barriers to physical activity reported by gender-diverse teens in a poster presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting. Other barriers included body dissatisfaction and discomfort or pain from binding or tucking, based on data from 160 individuals.

Previous studies suggest that gender-diverse teens have lower levels of physical activity than cisgender teens, but data on the specific barriers to physical activity reported by gender-diverse adolescents are lacking, according to Karishma Desai, BA, a medical student at Northwestern University, Chicago, and colleagues.

The researchers reviewed data from adolescents aged 13-18 years who identified as transgender or nonbinary and lived in the United States. Participants were recruited through flyers, wallet cards, email, and social media. They completed an online survey that included questions on preferred types of physical activity and potential barriers to physical activity. Major barriers were defined as items that “almost always” or “always” got in the way of physical activity.

Overall, 51% of the participants identified as female/transfeminine, 31% as male/transmasculine, 9% as genderqueer or agender, 8% as nonbinary, and 1% as unsure. A total of 86 participants were assigned male at birth, 73 were assigned female, and 1 was assigned intersex or other. Nearly all of the participants (96%) had begun social transition; approximately half (48%) reported using a chest binder, and 75% had been or were currently taking gender-affirming hormones.

Potential negative judgment from others was the top barrier to physical activity (cited by 39% of participants), followed by body dissatisfaction from gender dysphoria (38%) and discomfort with the available options for locker rooms or changing rooms (38%). Approximately one-third (36%) of respondents reported physical discomfort or pain from binding or tucking as a barrier to physical activity, and 34% cited discomfort with requirements for a physical activity uniform or athletic clothing at school. Other gender-diverse specific barriers to physical activity included bullying related to being transgender (31%) and the inability to participate in a group of choice because of gender identity (24%).

In addition, participants cited general barriers to physical activity including bullying related to weight (33%), dissatisfaction with weight or size (31%), and bullying in general or for reasons other than gender status (29%).

However, more than 50% of respondents said they were comfortable or very comfortable (4 or 5 on a 5-point Likert Scale) with physical activity in the settings of coed or all-gender teams (61%) or engaging in individual activities (71%). By contrast, 36% were comfortable or very comfortable with a team, group, or class that aligned with sex assignment at birth.

The majority of participants (81%) were comfortable or very comfortable with their homes or a private location as a setting for physical activity, 54% with a public space such as a park, and 43% with a school setting.

Increasing gender congruence was the biggest facilitator of physical activity, reported by 53% of participants, the researchers noted. Other facilitators of physical activity included increasing body satisfaction (43%), staying healthy to avoid long-term health problems in the future (43%), and staying healthy to prepare for gender-related surgery in the future (18%).

The study findings were limited by the use of self-reports and the use of a convenience sample, as well as the lack of data on race, the researchers noted. However, the results suggest that access to all-gender teams, standardizing physical activity clothing, and increasing inclusive facilities may promote greater physical activity participation by gender-diverse adolescents, and offering private or individual options may increase comfort with physical activity, they concluded.


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