A first-of-its kind study shows that gay, lesbian and bisexual students are more likely than their straight classmates to engage in risky behaviors, prompting federal health officials to issue a wake-up call on Monday.
The report – issued by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – shows that teens who self-identify as LGB or are having sex with same-sex partners are more likely to engage in tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual risk behaviors, suicidal behaviors, and violence. Results of the study, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12,” were released on Monday, prompting CDC officials to say more needs to be done to help LGB teens.
“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,” Howell Wechsler (second photo), director of CDC’s Division of Adolescent & School Health, says in a prepared statement. “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. We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks.”
The CDC study comes just weeks after a study of nearly 32,000 high school students showed that gay teens were 20 percent more likely to attempt suicide if they lived in politically-conservative areas that lacked supportive high school environments.
The CDC report marks the first time that the federal government has conducted such a large study across several large schools districts and risk behaviors. Researchers analyzed data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys between 2001-09 in seven states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin—and six large urban school districts—Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco
“For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported,” Laura Kann, chief of the CDC’s Surveillance & Evaluation Research Branch in the Division of Adolescent and School Health, says in a prepared statement.
“Schools and communities should take concrete steps to promote healthy environments for all students, such as prohibiting violence and bullying, creating safe spaces where young people can receive support from caring adults, and improving health education and health services to meet the needs of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth,” she adds.
The study examined findings across 10 risk categories:
• Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries (e.g., rarely or never wore a seat belt)
• Behaviors that contribute to violence (e.g., did not go to school because of safety concerns)
• Behaviors related to attempted suicide (e.g., made a suicide plan)
• Tobacco use (e.g., ever smoked cigarettes)
• Alcohol use (e.g., binge drinking)
• Other drug use (e.g., current marijuana use)
• Sexual behaviors (e.g., condom use)
• Dietary behaviors (e.g., ate vegetables 3 or more times per day)
• Physical activity and sedentary behaviors (e.g., physically active at least 60 minutes per day for 7 days)
• Weight management (e.g., did not eat for 24 hours or more to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight)
Other findings of the CDC study:
Across the sites that assessed sexual identity, gay or lesbian students had higher prevalence rates for 49 percent to 90 percent of all health risks measured. Specifically, gay or lesbian students had higher rates for seven of the 10 health risk categories (behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management).
Similarly, bisexual students had higher prevalence rates for 57 percent to 86 percent of all health risks measured. They also had higher rates for eight of the 10 health risk categories (behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries, behaviors that contribute to violence, behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management).