Masculine boys and feminine girls likelier to engage in behaviors that poses cancer risk
A new study suggests that young people who conform most strongly to norms of masculinity and femininity are significantly more likely to engage in behaviors that pose cancer risks than their peers.
According to the study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers, the most feminine teenage girls use tanning beds more frequently and are more likely to be physically inactive, while the most masculine teenage boys are more likely to use chewing tobacco and to smoke cigars, compared with their gender-nonconforming peers.
The study is the first to look at cancer risk behaviors in teens based on their gender expression.
"Our findings indicate that socially constructed ideas of masculinity and femininity heavily influence teens' behaviors and put them at increased risk for cancer. Though there is nothing inherently masculine about chewing tobacco, or inherently feminine about using a tanning booth, these industries have convinced some teens that these behaviors are a way to express their masculinity or femininity," lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH, said.
The study showed that boys who described themselves as very masculine, in terms of their self-image and play preferences in childhood, were almost 80 percent more likely to use chewing tobacco and 55 percent more likely to smoke cigars than boys who described themselves as the least masculine. The most feminine girls were 32 percent more likely to use tanning beds and 16 percent more likely to be physically inactive than the least feminine girls.
In contrast, the least masculine boys and least feminine girls were more likely to smoke cigarettes. The researchers speculate that these young people may be smoking in response to social stressors, perhaps due to social exclusion or harassment related to their gender nonconformity or perceived sexual orientation.
The study is published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
(Posted on 18-04-2014)