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Survey: Increased Health Risks for Gay Teens

CDC Study Shows Gay High School Students Are More Likely to Smoke and Use Drugs
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Teen boy with gay pride patch on bookbag

June 7, 2011 -- High school students who identify as being gay, lesbian, or bisexual are more likely than heterosexual students to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, and take part in violent and suicidal behaviors, a CDC survey shows.

CDC researchers analyzed survey results from about 156,000 high school students.

"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," Howard Wechsler, EdD, MPH, of the CDC, says in a news release. "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."

The study is the first time the federal government has conducted an analysis of such a large magnitude and across a wide array of states, large urban school districts, and risk behaviors.

The gay, lesbian, or bisexual students reported having sexual contact only with people of the same sex or both sexes. The heterosexual students reported having sex only with members of the opposite sex.

The study of data for the years 2001-2009 was published as a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance summary.

Health Risks for Gay Teens

The report highlights 76 health risks in 10 categories:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries, such as rarely or never using a seat belt.
  • Behaviors that contribute to violence, such as skipping school due to safety to concerns.
  • Behaviors related to attempted suicide, such as coming up with or having a suicide plan.
  • Alcohol, such as binge drinking.
  • Current use of other drugs such as marijuana.
  • Dietary behaviors, such as eating vegetables three or more times per day.
  • Physical activity and sedentary behaviors. This might include, for example, being physically active at least an hour daily for seven days.
  • Weight management. This included not eating for 24 hours or more in order to lose weight, or keep from gaining weight.

When sexual identity was taken into account, gay or lesbian students had higher prevalence rates for 49% to 90% of all health risks measured.

Gay or lesbian students had higher rates than heterosexual teens for seven of the 10 risk categories, including behaviors related to attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, violence, and weight management.

Bisexual students also had higher prevalence rates for health risks. These youths had prevalence rates for 57% to 86% of all health risks measured, including activities that contribute to violence and attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, other drug use, sexual behaviors, and weight management, unintentional injuries.

Promoting Healthy Environments for All

"For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally and physically safe and supported," says Laura Kann, also of CDC and author of the report. "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."

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