Washington, D.C. — The federal government is funding a $1.5 million study that will be conducted by a Harvard-affiliated hospital on why lesbian women are overweight.
The National Institutes of Health, through its Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, provided two grants to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to conduct the study, which it states is an issue of “high public health significance.”
The study reportedly will analyze the biological, psychological and social factors of why three-quarters of lesbian women are obese, while homosexual men have lower obesity rates.
“The study is examining reasons why the risk of obesity varies according to sexual orientation, in order to inform the development of future strategies to prevent obesity,” NIH spokesperson told CNS News.
“Lesbian and bisexual girls and women make up almost 5 million Americans,” added Bryn Austin, project leader. “In terms of sexual orientation and obesity, lesbians and bisexual girls and women – along with heterosexual men — seem to be the hardest hit. Why is that? We don’t know, but our study is designed to find out so we can come up with better ways to combat the epidemic for these communities.”
A government webpage outlining the project, entitled “Sexual Orientation and Obesity: Test of a Gendered Biopsychosocial Model,” further explains.
“Racial and socioeconomic disparities in obesity are receiving increasing attention; however, one area of disparities that is only beginning to be recognized is the striking interplay of gender and sexual orientation,” it states. “Women of minority sexual orientation are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic with nearly three-quarters of lesbians overweight or obese, compared to half of heterosexual women.”
The outline asserts, however, that while lesbian women are more obese then heterosexual women, heterosexual males are more obese then homosexual men.
“Despite clear evidence from descriptive epidemiologic research that sexual orientation and gender markedly pattern obesity disparities, there is almost no prospective, analytic epidemiologic research into the causes of these disparities,” it notes. “It will be impossible to develop evidence-based preventive interventions unless we first answer basic questions about causal pathways, as we plan to do.”
“Our study has high potential for public health impact not only for sexual minorities but also for heterosexuals, as we seek to uncover how processes of gender socialization may exacerbate obesity risk in both sexual minority females and heterosexual males.”
The department states that it will use “longitudinal, repeated measures survey data and also biological data from three youth cohorts” to conduct the study, and will observe examples to help them understand the issue. The project is said to be in response to PA-07-409 “Health Research with Diverse Populations.”
While the study could take up to five years to complete, its future is reportedly uncertain due to the government sequester on March 1st.
Requests for further comment from the National Institutes of Health were not returned by press time.