Health Disparities Exist Based On Sexual Orientation

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has released the nation’s first statewide population-based look at health disparities based on sexual orientation. The report revealed significant disparities among people who identified as homosexual or bisexual in the areas of access to care, self-reported health status, anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, smoking, binge drinking, illicit drug use, sexual assault victimization, intimate partner violence, disability, obesity, asthma and heart disease.

Data for the report was obtained through Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys undertaken in the state between 2001 — when a question on sexual orientation was added to the survey — and 2006.

Some of the findings from the report include:

* The odds of being a current smoker were 2.5 times greater for gays and lesbians compared to heterosexuals.


* Bisexuals were 3.1 times more likely than heterosexuals to report feeling tense or worried.

* Lesbians were 2.2 times more likely than heterosexual women to be obese.

* Bisexuals were 4.4 times and gays/lesbians 1.5 times more likely than heterosexuals to report their health as "poor" or "fair."

Researchers found that in many cases the disparities were even greater for bisexuals than for gay/lesbians when compared with their heterosexual counterparts. Dr. Kerith Conron, Research Fellow, Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the report, said, "This report identifies major health disparities faced by lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. Bisexuals particularly face greater health disparities in the areas of mental health and violence victimization. Specific interventions should be developed to work with the bisexual population in these areas."

Health officials also hope that the report will stimulate further study on ways to reduce and eliminate health disparities faced by gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Stewart Landers, MDPH Senior Researcher on the project, added that "the valuable insights provided by this report highlight the importance of adding sexual orientation questions to population-based surveys, such as the BRFSS undertaken by each state."