Are Lesbians Fat?

One of the headlines that is whistling around the web at light speed is: “Feds Spend $1.5 Million to Study Why Lesbians Are Fat. But is the study really that simple? Is it really a waste of taxpayers’ money?  The headline itself seems simple and slants towards a stance of ridicule.

A slightly different headline gives the story a more reasonable spin, even though the articles are almost identical. “US $1.5 million study launched to find out why 75% of lesbians are obese”.

Either way, the facts at both sites are laid out:

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, has received two grants administered by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to study the relationship between sexual orientation and obesity….

BWH first received a $778,622 grant for the study in 2011, followed by a $741,378 grant in 2012, totaling $1,520,000. The project has the potential to be a five-year study.

Depending upon your point of view, this will sound either useful or useless. It may be useful to know that this study is essentially a follow up to one published in 2010.

A Population-Based Study of Sexual Orientation Identity and Gender Differences in Adult Health  Kerith J. Conron, ScD, MPH, Matthew J. Mimiaga, ScD, MPH, and Stewart J. Landers, JD, MCP


Objectives. We provide estimates of several leading US adult health indicators by sexual orientation identity and gender to fill gaps in the current literature.
Methods. We aggregated data from the 2001–2008 Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance surveys (N = 67 359) to examine patterns in self-reported health by sexual orientation identity and gender, using multivariable logistic regression.
Results. Compared with heterosexuals, sexual minorities (i.e., gays/lesbians, 2% of sample; bisexuals, 1%) were more likely to report activity limitation, tension or worry, smoking, drug use, asthma, lifetime sexual victimization, and HIV testing, but did not differ on 3-year Papanicolaou tests, lifetime mammography, diabetes, or heart disease. Compared with heterosexuals, bisexuals reported more barriers to health care, current sadness, past-year suicidal ideation, and cardiovascular disease risk. Gay men were less likely to be overweight or obese and to obtain prostate-specific antigen tests, and lesbians were more likely to be obese and to report multiple risks for cardiovascular disease. Binge drinking and lifetime physical intimate partner victimization were more common among bisexual women.
Conclusions. Sexual orientation disparities in chronic disease risk, victimization, health care access, mental health, and smoking merit increased attention. More research on heterogeneity in health and health determinants among sexual minorities is needed.

So now we see that health outcomes differ according to sexual orientation, and obesity isf a known and significant health issue. Finding the basis for some of the health differences due to sexual orientations is definitely of value to both the individuals affected and the health care system. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem to be such a waste of money.

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3 Responses to Are Lesbians Fat?

  1. Pingback: Obese Lesbians part 2 | PEI Curmudgeon's Blog

  2. Lance says:

    Health outcomes differ according to almost any variable you wish to choose – age, gender, marital status, race, family history, occupation, hobbies, life style,etc – this list is almost endless. Just because there appears to be differing outcomes based on sexual orientation doesn’t make the study worth the money. If taxpayers paid for studies on all the possible variables there would be little left to actually treat those with “health issues”

    • My concern is broader than this particular study. When we read news articles about any specific field of research, we know very little about the background of why the research may have value. We know that reporters and editors always have their own biases, something that is shown in the two headlines for the same article. My main point is that headlines and news stories aren’t a good source to evaluate whether or not research is valid.

      I think that the role of the public (including the government) is to determine broad areas of research. In this case, we know that obesity is a major problem in our current society, and I think most people would recognize the value of research into determining why as a first step in determining he best approaches to the problem. If different segments of the populations are impacted in differing ways, it makes sense to determine the differences and tailor approaches to specific groups.

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