Kerith Conron, an asso­ciate research sci­en­tist at Northeastern’s Insti­tute on Urban Health Research, con­ducted a unique study of trans­gender health in Mass­a­chu­setts and iden­ti­fied social and eco­nomic inequities that she says war­rant policy intervention.

For her study, Conron used the Mass­a­chu­setts Behav­ioral Risk Factor Sur­veil­lance System, a tele­phone survey of ran­domly selected adults in the Com­mon­wealth who vol­un­tarily answer ques­tions about their health. Starting in 2007, the survey began asking people if they con­sid­ered them­selves to be trans­gender, a term used to describe someone whose assigned sex at birth does not com­pletely match their cur­rent gender identity.

The find­ings were pub­lished online in the Amer­ican Journal of Public Health on Thursday. Conron worked with researchers from the Mass­a­chu­setts Trans­gender Polit­ical Coali­tion, BAGLY Inc. and John Snow Inc.

My col­leagues and I expected to find higher rates of unem­ploy­ment and poverty and poorer health among trans­gender adults com­pared to non-​​transgender adults,” said Conron, who based the hypoth­esis on pre­vious research on socially mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions. “We were sur­prised to find that trans­gender adults reported health that is com­pa­rable to the non-​​transgender adult pop­u­la­tion, despite having higher rates of unem­ploy­ment and poverty.”

One excep­tion, she added, was that researchers found higher rates of smoking among trans­gender adults, con­sis­tent with find­ings from another prob­a­bility study in California.

We need make sure that tobacco pre­ven­tion pro­gram­ming reaches trans­gender ado­les­cents and that ces­sa­tion ser­vices are avail­able for trans­gender people,” Conron said.

Conron said that her study’s find­ings of employ­ment dis­par­i­ties, which occur despite com­pa­rable levels of edu­ca­tion and health between trans­gender and non-​​transgender adults, indi­cate the need for anti-​​discrimination laws to pro­tect trans­gender people. Mass­a­chu­setts Gov. Deval Patrick signed such leg­is­la­tion into law ear­lier this week.

According to Conron, sev­eral fac­tors might explain why trans­gender adults in Mass­a­chu­setts are rel­a­tively healthy despite reduced work oppor­tu­ni­ties, including near-​​universal access to health care in the Commonwealth.

It is also impor­tant to remember that there is a siz­able body of research showing that some seg­ment of the trans­gender com­mu­nity has very poor health, including high rates of expo­sure to dis­crim­i­na­tion and vio­lence vic­tim­iza­tion and the types of health prob­lems that develop as a result of such expe­ri­ences,” Conron said. “This means that our study may have reached a select group of people who were for­tu­nate to be living in fairly stable house­holds and who have better health because of their cir­cum­stances. A great deal more research is needed on trans­gender health, including studies to expand on our findings.”

Conron said it is impor­tant for public health insti­tu­tions to col­lect data and assess the health of the trans­gender pop­u­la­tion, as well as other mar­gin­al­ized groups.

Mass­a­chu­setts is one of the first states in the country to col­lect infor­ma­tion in the Behav­ioral Risk Factor Sur­veil­lance System about whether or not survey respon­dents are trans­gender, and we hope that our Depart­ment of Public Health will serve as a model for other states,” Conron said.