Cancer Risk Behaviors are Higher in Masculine Boys and Feminine Girls

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A new study shows that gender expression could play a big role in terms of whether boys and girls engage in cancer risk behaviors. The Harvard School of Public Health had their study published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study, “Masculine boys, feminine girls and cancer risk behaviors: An 11-year longitudinal study,” is the first to analyze cancer risk behaviors in teens based on their gender expression. The researchers found that the most masculine boys and most feminine girls are likely to engage in such behaviors, which include cigar smoking and tobacco chewing (for boys) and using tanning beds and being physically inactive (for girls).

Masculinity – having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness – and femininity – a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with girls and women – are changing as each generation progresses. Those who do not possess these attributes that define each generation, according to the data of 9,500 adolescents, are less likely to participate in cancer risk behaviors. They’re considered the gender-nonconforming counterparts.

“Our findings indicate that socially constructed ideas of masculinity and femininity heavily influence teens’ behaviors and put them at increased risk for cancer,” said the study’s lead author Andrea Roberts, in a news release.

“Engaging in risk behaviors in adolescence likely increases the risk of engaging in similar behaviors in adulthood,” added senior author S. Bryn Austin.

The authors believe the focus of this study is important because it can help prevent teens from engaging in these behaviors if the trends prove to be true. The data was retrieved from the Growing Up Today Study, which began in 1996. Those who participated in the study were asked to answer questions regarding gender expression and about their lifestyle. The researchers arrived at their results through these answers, finding that “masculine” boys were 80% and 55% more likely to chew tobacco and smoke cigars, whereas “feminine girls” were 32% and 16% more likely to use tanning beds and be physically inactive (reading magazines and watching TV/movies).

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