A recent study con­ducted by North­eastern University’s Insti­tute on Urban Health Research found a sig­nif­i­cant number of health dis­par­i­ties in Mass­a­chu­setts between het­ero­sexual adults and gay, les­bian and bisexual adults.

Led by Kerith Conron, asso­ciate research sci­en­tist at North­eastern, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with researchers at Har­vard Med­ical School and a pri­vate health-​​care con­sul­tant, the study revealed that gay men are about 33 per­cent less likely to be obese than het­ero­sexual men, and les­bian women about 50 per­cent more likely to be obese than het­ero­sexual women. It also iden­ti­fied bisexual adults, par­tic­u­larly women, as dis­pro­por­tion­ately bur­dened by poor health.

In all, sig­nif­i­cant dis­par­i­ties between sexual minori­ties and their het­ero­sexual coun­ter­parts were observed in 16 of the 22 mental and phys­ical health indi­ca­tors exam­ined in the study.

The study is one of the first to focus on the rela­tion­ship of sexual ori­en­ta­tion to a range of health con­di­tions in a population-​​based sample, said Conron. The results were reported in the Amer­ican Journal of Public Health.

Among the other findings:

• Gay men and women were more likely to be cur­rent smokers com­pared to their het­ero­sexual counterparts.

• Les­bian women and bisex­uals were more likely to report having mul­tiple risk fac­tors for heart disease.

• Sexual minori­ties as a whole were more likely to report expe­ri­encing some form of sexual assault during their lifetime.

What is very clear from this data is that risk fac­tors for chronic health prob­lems are preva­lent among sexual minori­ties and need to be added to our list of con­cerns,” said Conron. “In the short run, clin­i­cians and public health agen­cies need to col­lab­o­rate and imple­ment cul­tur­ally appro­priate health interventions.”

The study was made pos­sible by the Mass­a­chu­setts Behav­ioral Risk Factor Sur­veil­lance System survey, which asks respon­dents about their sexual ori­en­ta­tion in addi­tion to other demo­graphic char­ac­ter­is­tics. The Mass­a­chu­setts Depart­ment of Public Health is respon­sible for mon­i­toring public health through this and sim­ilar surveys.

Researchers pooled and ana­lyzed self-​​report data from more than 67,000 Mass­a­chu­setts res­i­dents between the ages of 18 and 64 who responded to the annual survey between 2001 and 2008.

By iden­ti­fying the social fac­tors con­tributing to sexual ori­en­ta­tion health disparities,future research can help reduce their inci­dence over the long term, added Conron.

Conron is also affil­i­ated with Har­vard School of Public Health. The pri­mary col­lab­o­ra­tors included Matthew J. Mimiaga, of Har­vard Med­ical School, Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pital and the Fenway Research Insti­tute; and Stewart J. Lan­ders, of John Snow Inc., a public health research and con­sulting firm.

The Insti­tute on Urban Health Research (IUHR)is devoted to knowl­edge dis­covery and its prac­tical appli­ca­tion to improve per­sonal and public health within urban com­mu­ni­ties. The IUHR is par­tic­u­larly focused on under­standing the social and envi­ron­mental con­di­tions of urban living in order to inform public health inter­ven­tion strate­gies, poli­cies and pro­fes­sional training.