The University of Washington is in some hot water after publishing a report on “gender-affirming care” that falsely claimed it helped young people suffering from mental health issues.
According to a lengthy report from Seattle-based talk radio host Jason Rantz for KTTH, the UW Medicine study, which was conducted in partnership with Seattle Children’s Hospital, “claimed gender-affirming care via puberty blockers leads to positive mental health outcomes for transgender teen patients.”
“That characterization, however, was false, forcing substantial edits to the materials used to promote the study and prompting UW to cease promoting the research,” Rantz noted further.
But in spite of those mistakes and edits, the UW communications office did not respond proactively to “some pretty concerning claims” regarding the study because the university had received a shower of praise from the media, according to emails Rantz obtained, adding that UW Medicine never bothered to reach out to those media outlets to correct their reporting on the study’s false claims.
Fourth-year UW Medicine student Arin Collin and UW epidemiology Ph.D. candidate Diana Tordoff tracked the mental health of 104 transgender patients aged 13 to 20 for a year. The patients received gender-affirming care, which the researchers defined as taking either Leuprolide, Testosterone, or Estradiol.
Using the data collected from patient experiences, the researchers and UW Medicine claimed in a press release that gender-affirming care “dramatically reduces” depression, calling it “lifesaving care.” The study was published in JAMA Open Network.
In a March 11 press release titled “Gender-affirming care dramatically reduces depression for transgender teens, study finds,” UW Medicine claimed that “researchers recently found that gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary adolescents caused rates of depression to plummet.”
However, he added, that’s “not what the study claimed.”
“The data shows there was virtually no improvement in mental health outcomes for the patients receiving gender-affirming care,” he added.
After noting that media reports on the initial study were glowing, Rantz then pointed out how the press release touting the alleged results was also “overtly political.”
“This research comes as the nation’s largest pediatric hospital announced this month it has stopped gender-affirming therapies after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate reports of gender-affirming care for children as abuse. This week, a bill passed the Idaho State House which would make providing gender-affirming care a felony,” the press release originally noted.
Also, an essay penned by the study authors said their research could have an effect on “anti-transgender legislation.”
The talk host also noted that independent journalist Jesse Singal, in an even longer report, dissected the study and found that it did not ‘prove’ that teens who took puberty blockers as part of ‘gender-affirming care’ had better mental health outcomes:
Singal has a laundry list of issues with the study: 1) the data did not back up claims made about mental health improvement; 2) the researchers provide little specific data that is typically on display in these kinds of studies, and 3) the researchers may not have used the correct statistical method.
After Singal published his criticisms, internal emails between UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations. It was so concerning that Laura East, Department of Epidemiology spokesperson, wrote in an email that she wouldn’t promote the study.
“The article resulting from the inquiry was recently posted on the author’s Substack, and includes some pretty concerning claims. UW Epidemiology/UW SPH/UW News will not be including this article in our media tracking/or otherwise driving traffic to this piece,” East noted in an email to communications colleagues at UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s.
Even though the study’s conclusions were false or, at a minimum unsupported, that still wasn’t enough to motivate East to correct the record with the media.
“As there is an overwhelming amount of positive coverage of the study’s findings, I don’t believe there’s a need for a proactive response beyond continuing to monitor, but welcome your ideas for any other actions or messaging with the study team. Happy to jump on a call too, if that’s easier,” East continued.
UW Medicine Communications Manager Barbara Clements forwarded the email to Susan Gregg, UW Medicine spokesperson, Rantz noted.
“FYI, I read through his exceedingly long (very, very long) article, which claimed the research was flawed or, at worst, made up, but given the extremely positive pick up by mainstream media, I would agree and just let this be,” Clements wrote.
She then wrote back to East to say she agreed with her, adding that “we won’t be promoting or responding as well.”
Seattle Children’s Hospital was also aware of the concerns about the study’s false conclusions, Rantz said.
“If the Seattle Children’s team gets any inquiries on social and/or through our press inbox, we will continue to not engage,” Madison Joseph, a communications specialist, noted.