Medical researchers need to do more to learn about health issues that specifically affect LGBT people — starting with simply asking about study participants’ sexual orientation and gender identity, says a new report from the Washington, D.C.–based Institute of Medicine.
“It’s easy to assume that because we are all humans, gender, race, or other characteristics of study participants shouldn’t matter in health research, but they certainly do,” said Robert Graham, a University of Cincinnati professor of medicine and chair of the committee that wrote the report, in a press release.
“It was only when researchers made deliberate efforts to engage women and racial and ethnic minorities in studies that we discovered differences in how some diseases occur in and affect specific populations,” Graham continued. “Routine collection of information on race and ethnicity has expanded our understanding of conditions that are more prevalent among various groups or that affect them differently. We should strive for the same attention to and engagement of sexual and gender minorities in health research.”
The study, released Thursday and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, emphasizes that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are all separate populations, and it identifies health challenges that may specific to each. While gay and bisexual men are generally identified as being at a high risk for HIV, lesbians and bisexual women have a higher rate of obesity and breast cancer than other women, and they may get less preventive care. Few doctors, it notes, have sufficient knowledge about transgender people to treat them in a culturally competent manner.
LGBT people as a whole, the report relates, have increased risk of depression, suicide attempts, and becoming victims of violence. They may also have higher rates of smoking and substance abuse than the general population. And lack of legal recognition for same-sex partnerships limits access to health insurance.
The study also urges attention to the needs of LGBT people who are also part of a racial or ethnic minority group, and assessment of different needs at different ages.
Gay activists reacted positively to the report. “This is really going to spark a long-term commitment to dealing with these issues,” Brian Moulton of the Human Rights Campaign told the Associated Press.
For more on the report, titled “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding,” click here.