Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Health

$1 million federal grant will help study of transgender kids

The first large-scale, national study of transgender children, including some as young as 3, is poised to expand thanks to a five-year, $1 million grant awarded Thursday by the National Science Foundation to the professor leading the project.

University of Washington psychologist Kristina Olson, 36, was named winner of the NSF’s annual Alan T. Waterman Award, the government’s highest honor for scientists still in the early phases of their careers. The NSF said the choice was unanimous, and noted that pediatricians are already using her findings to raise awareness about gender diversity.

While the award citation honors Olson for a broad range of her research on children’s perceptions, she has become best known as creator and leader of the TransYouth Project, which is widely considered the most ambitious long-term study of transgender children being conducted in the U.S.

Launched in 2013, the project has recruited more than 300 children ages 3-12 from 45 states, with the goal of tracking their development over 20 years. The NSF grant will help Olson maintain the study as many of the children go through adolescence; she hopes to continue it into their adulthood.

"‘Transgender children’ is a category we have so little scientific knowledge about," says Olson. "I’m interested in their experience of feeling you are in a social category that other people don’t think you’re a part of."

Some of the study’s early findings were reported two years ago in the journal Pediatrics — notably that the 73 children being tracked at that time had rates of depression and anxiety no higher than non-transgender children in control groups. The trans children were supported by their families and allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with — suggesting to Olson that family support was a key to avoiding the mental health problems identified in studies of other transgender youths.

"In a very scientific way, our study shows that this group of kids is doing really, really well," she said in a telephone interview.

She hopes the NSF grant will enable her to expand the study to encompass youths who are in the process of gender transition but haven’t completed it.

The project received positive coverage following the Pediatrics article, but Olson’s research also has been the target of criticism. An article last year in The Federalist, a conservative online magazine, asserted that it was "utterly ridiculous" to open a study on gender identity to a 3-year-old child "who is just learning to use the bathroom, spell his name, and the days of the week."

However, Olson said children of that age, whether transgender or not, show awareness of gender identity in many ways, through their self-descriptions, what they wear, who they prefer to play with.

"People frequently compare early-identifying trans children with those who go through phases of believing they are cats or dinosaurs or who have imaginary friends," Olson wrote recently. "Yet decades of work on gender development suggests these are precisely the ages at which nearly all kids are coming to understand their own and others’ gender identities."

Olson said some critics incorrectly concluded that gender-altering surgery is being performed on the prepubescent children in her study.

She also stresses that the parents of the children already had decided to help them make a gender-identity transition — she’s not the one advocating for that. Even before she met the children, they were identifying with a gender different from the one they were born with — often adopting a new name, and different clothing, toys, activities and friends.

Among those skeptical of the study is Andrew Walker, a parent of two small children who is director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"I am highly suspect of allowing children to be mature agents in determining this level of self-understanding," he said. "That seems to be highly problematic and borderline reckless... putting drastically catastrophic decisions about a child’s life in the child’s hands."

He also questioned the appropriateness of investing federal funds in "what is ultimately an ideological, contestable issue — the notion of gender fluidity."

Olson said the vitriol directed at her, via email and social media, became so extreme that she avoided talking to the media for about eight months.

"It doesn’t feel good to have people saying negative things about you," she said. "You just have to keep going."

Cheryl Kaiser, chair of the UW psychology department, described Olson’s foray into the project as a "striking act of bravery."

Olson is the first psychologist to receive the Waterman Award, which was established by Congress in 1975.

Comments
Florida Hospital to change its name to AdventHealth

Florida Hospital to change its name to AdventHealth

Beginning next year, the Florida Hospital brand will be known as AdventHealth.The Central Florida-based health care chain, which has nearly 50 hospital campuses and more than 80,000 employees, including seven hospitals around Tampa Bay, announced the...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General Hospital was ranked as Florida’s second best hospital in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Hospital Rankings released Tuesday, while Moffitt Cancer Center was named the country’s eighth-best cancer hospital.The rankings, which analy...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Pinellas health officials report measles in an unvaccinated child

Pinellas health officials report measles in an unvaccinated child

An unvaccinated child has contracted the contagious measles virus in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Health, which said Monday it is investigating the case. It was unclear how the child contracted the virus, according to the h...
Published: 08/13/18
CVS offering 24-hour ‘virtual care’ on its app to treat minor illnesses

CVS offering 24-hour ‘virtual care’ on its app to treat minor illnesses

Florida residents seeking treatment for minor health problems can now take advantage of a new, quick, virtual service from CVS Health’s MinuteClinic.The new service, called MinuteClinic Video Visits, will provide patients with video access to health-...
Published: 08/09/18
Lyme disease is on the rise in Florida, but experts don’t know why

Lyme disease is on the rise in Florida, but experts don’t know why

When Jackie Dube found circular rashes with bullseye points on her stomach, she went to the hospital. Doctors told her she had an allergic reaction to flea bites. A year later, she became seriously ill. Flu-like symptoms and chronic joint pain would ...
Published: 08/08/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Next generation: Many younger doctors like the idea of universal health care

Next generation: Many younger doctors like the idea of universal health care

When the American Medical Association — one of the nation’s most powerful health care groups — met in Chicago this June, its medical student caucus seized an opportunity for change.Though they had tried for years to advance a resolution calling on th...
Published: 08/08/18
Plant City therapy dog brightens days for kids

Plant City therapy dog brightens days for kids

PLANT CITY — When Kaleb French first visited therapy dog Bonnie at the library, he was too shy to read aloud to her. Instead, his mother read to the dog. Eventually, he began whispering the words to her.Now, the 7-year-old’s voice echoes through the ...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Popular blood pressure medicine made in China is recalled

Popular blood pressure medicine made in China is recalled

The Food and Drug Administration has announced a voluntary recall of a widely prescribed blood pressure medication made in China, reviving fears about the safety of imported drugs.Three companies that sell the generic drug, valsartan, in the United S...
Published: 08/07/18
Beyoncé, Serena Williams open up about potentially fatal childbirths, a problem especially for black mothers

Beyoncé, Serena Williams open up about potentially fatal childbirths, a problem especially for black mothers

Beyoncé. Serena Williams. While one is a singer and the other is a professional tennis player, there are many similarities between the women’s lives. Both are at the top of their respective fields - Beyoncé has 22 Grammy Awards. Williams has 23 Grand...
Published: 08/07/18
Patients are desperate to look like their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons alarmed by ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia.’

Patients are desperate to look like their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons alarmed by ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia.’

Remember the days when people would bring photos of celebrities to the plastic surgeon’s office and ask for Angelina Jolie’s lips or Brad Pitt’s jawline? That’s not the case anymore.Now, people want to look like themselves — heavily edited or filtere...
Published: 08/06/18