Lesbians are more likely to get vaccinated, but also to drink excessively

A new HHS study breaks down key health trends by sexual orientation, revealing major differences across groups

Published July 15, 2014 10:37PM (EDT)

It might not come as a huge surprise that bisexual men are more likely to get tested for HIV than those who identify as straight or heterosexual, but what about the fact that they're also much less likely to have a primary care physician? The findings are among several new insights the Department of Health and Human Services published on Tuesday, compiled in the first federal study of sexual orientation and health practices that evaluates differences across groups. The report includes responses from nearly 35,000 adults aged 18 and up, revealing fascinating -- and sometimes dispiriting -- data about lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual health practices.

The study relied on self-reported sexual orientation identification, asking participants if they considered themselves "lesbian or gay," "straight, that is, not gay" or "bisexual." Participants of both genders could also opt to identify as "something else" or say "I don't know the answer," but were asked an additional follow-up question that was not included in the report. Approximately 96.6 percent of participants identified as straight while just 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian and 0.7 percent identified as bisexual.

The data revealed some major disparities in the area of healthcare access, finding that bisexual people of both genders were significantly less likely to have health insurance than people of any other group. Nearly a quarter of bisexual respondents were uninsured, while approximately 84 percent of gay, lesbian and heterosexual respondents did have medical coverage. When it comes to seeking out certain medical treatment, specifically HIV testing, gay, lesbian and bisexual people were more likely than their straight counterparts to participate. Additionally, nearly half of gay and lesbian respondents reported getting flu vaccines, but bi- and heterosexual people lagged behind.

Little of the data sets itself up for clear or immediate analysis, with a few notable exceptions. When it comes to obesity rates, the report found that gay and bisexual men were much less likely than heterosexual men and women across sexual orientations to be obese. Additionally, gay, lesbian and bisexual people were also more likely to be physically active than heterosexual people, which is likely related. This isn't that surprising: body-shaming has been highlighted as a prominent issue in the gay male community, and studies have revealed an epidemic of eating disorders among gay men. As the report notes, none of the data is conclusive as is, but it could mark an important jumping off point for deeper investigations in the future.

By Jenny Kutner

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