Association of Media Coverage of Transgender and Gender Diverse Issues With Rates of Referral of Transgender Children and Adolescents to Specialist Gender Clinics in the UK and Australia

Ken C. Pang, Nastasja M. de Graaf, Denise Chew, Monsurul Hoq, David R. Keith, Polly Carmichael, Thomas D. Steensma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Importance: Specialist gender clinics worldwide have witnessed an increase in referrals of transgender and gender diverse (TGD) children and adolescents, but the underlying factors associated with this increase are unknown. Objective: To determine whether increases in TGD young people presenting to specialist gender clinics are associated with related media coverage. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study was conducted at 2 publicly funded, pediatric specialist gender services, one located in the UK and the other in Australia. Participants were all children and adolescents aged 0 to 18 years, referred between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2016, to their respective gender services in the UK and Australia. Data analysis was performed in April 2019. Exposures: Media coverage of TGD issues. Main Outcomes and Measures: Referral rates from each gender service were compared with local TGD-related media coverage during the study period. Results: Referral data for 5242 TGD young people were obtained (4684 in the UK, of whom 1847 [39.4%] were assigned male at birth and 2837 [60.6%] were assigned female at birth; 558 in Australia, of whom 250 [44.8%] were assigned male at birth and 308 [55.2%] were assigned female at birth), and a total of 2614 news items were identified (UK, 2194; Australia, 420). The annual number of TGD young people referred to both specialist gender clinics was positively correlated with the number of TGD-related local media stories appearing each year (Spearman r = 1.0; P < .001). Moreover, weekly referral rates in both the UK for week 1 (β̂ = 0.16; 95% CI, 0.03-0.29; P = .01) and Australia for week 2 (β̂ = 0.12; 95% CI, 0.04-0.20; P = .003) showed evidence of association with the number of TGD-related media items appearing within the local media. There was no evidence of association between referrals and media items appearing 3 weeks beforehand. Media predominantly focused on TGD issues showed some association with increased referral rates. Specifically, TGD-focused stories showed evidence of association with referral numbers at week 1 (β̂ = 0.16; 95% CI, 0.04-0.28; P = .007) and week 2 (β̂ = 0.23; 95% CI, 0.11-0.35; P < .001) in Australia and with referral numbers at week 1 (β̂ = 0.22; 95% CI, 0.01-0.44; P = .04) in the UK. No evidence of association was found between media peripherally related to TGD issues and referral rates. Conclusions and Relevance: This study found evidence of an association between increasing media coverage of TGD-related topics and increasing numbers of young people presenting to gender clinics. It is possible that media coverage acts as a precipitant for young people to seek treatment at specialist gender services, which is consistent with clinical experiences in which TGD young people commonly identify the media as a helpful source of information and a trigger to seek assistance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e2011161
JournalJAMA network open
Volume3
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020

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