A new study by researchers in the San Francisco Bay area shows that lesbians on average carry more weight around their waistlines than heterosexual women, which could be putting them at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The study appears in the September 10 edition of the journal Women's Health Issues. Lead researcher Stephanie Roberts said the study of 648 women, half of whom self-identified as lesbians, showed that lesbians had higher waist circumferences and larger waist-to-hip ratios than straight women, both of which are indicative of metabolic syndromes that boost cardiovascular risk. Previous studies have shown that waist size and waist-to-hip ratios are better predictors of heart problems than standard indicators like body mass index measurements. Other cardiac risk factors, like smoking, were similar between the two study groups. Diet also did not vary significantly between lesbian and heterosexual study subjects, except that lesbians tended to eat less red meat.
Roberts theorizes that attitudes about weight and dieting--in particular, a tendency among lesbians to reject heterosexual notions of appropriate female body size and shape--may play a significant role in why lesbians tend to be heavier and have larger waists than heterosexual women. Lesbians also are less likely to perceive themselves as overweight, even when they are too heavy, Roberts added.
The researchers say that because many lesbians have a cavalier attitude toward weight and dieting, programs aimed at reducing cardiac risk among gay women should instead focus on exercise as a way to reduce abdominal obesity. They also called for more research that includes screening of lesbians for other factors related to cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, blood lipid levels, cholesterol measurements, and blood glucose levels.