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CDC Releases Study on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Students

Special thanks to HRC Law Fellow, Caitlin Downs, for this blog.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual and students are more likely than heterosexual students to engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use, sexual risk behaviors, suicidal behaviors, and violence, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday.  Reasons such as homophobia, stigma, and family rejection have been attributed to such a disparity in unhealthy risk behaviors.

“This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people. Any effort to promote adolescent health and safety must take into account the additional stressors these youth experience because of their sexual orientation, such as stigma, discrimination, and victimization,” said Howell Wechsler, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). “We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks.”

The findings are based on information collected from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted during 2001–2009.  Researchers analyzed data about risk behaviors across a wide array of states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin—and large urban school districts—Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Some notable results, which vary by survey site:

  • About 8 percent to 19 percent of heterosexual students said they currently smoke cigarettes; 20 percent to 48 percent of gay and lesbian students smoked.
  • About 4 to 10 percent of heterosexual students said they attempted suicide in the previous year. For gay and lesbian students: 15 percent to 34 percent. For bisexual students: 21 percent to 32 percent.
  • About 3 percent to 6 percent of heterosexual students said they threw up or used laxatives to lose weight or stay thin. For gay and lesbian students: 13 percent to 20 percent. For bisexual students: 12 percent to 17.5 percent.

In general, researchers examined whether students engage in risky health behaviors such as tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use (such as marijuana), suicidal behaviors, unsafe sexual behaviors, unsafe dietary behaviors, and lack of physical activity.  Across the survey sites that assessed sexual identity, gay or lesbian students had higher prevalence rates for 49 percent to 90 percent of all health risks measured. Similarly, bisexual students had higher prevalence rates for 57 percent to 86 percent of all health risks measured.

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