CDC: Gay Teens Face Health Risks

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 06 2011 3:05 PM ET

It should be little surprise anymore that gay high
school students face greater risks to their well-being than straight classmates. But the severe degree of risk these students face has authorities “very concerned” about the “dramatic disparities” found in a lengthy study released today from the federal government.

The analysis, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concluded that gay youth are at increased risk not only for suicide but also for seven out of the 10 health dangers it tracks.

"This report should be a wake-up call,” Howell Weschsler, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said in a news release. "We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks."

Of straight students, the CDC found that 8% to 19% are cigarette smokers. The percentage for gay and lesbian students varied from 20% to 48% among depending on the location surveyed. The story is much the same for violence, binge drinking, drug use, and even weight problems.

Bisexual students are often at highest risk. Binge drinking, for example, was a problem for 15.9% to 44.4% of straight students and for 17.3% to 44.4% of gay students, but it hit 33% to 63.3% of bisexual students.

Much of what’s ailing these students can be attributed to a lack of “safe and supportive environments,” according to the CDC report, which mentioned a survey that found gay and lesbian students feel unsafe while at school.

The CDC calls for state and local governments to do more — in the form of policies or programs such as gay-straight alliances — to combat what’s happening to gay youth. It also calls for better information. The center’s analysis was based on a common tool for judging the risk of students — called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System — but in 2009 only 10 states and seven large school districts even asked whether students were gay or bisexual.