Diabetes risk higher among LGBQ teens than heterosexual teens, study finds

July 24, 2018 by Kristin Samuelson, Northwestern University
Diabetes risk higher among LGBQ teens than heterosexual teens, study finds
Credit: Northwestern University

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, be obese and engage in less physical activity and more sedentary activities than heterosexual youth, a new Northwestern Medicine study has found.

The study is among the first of its kind to examine how behaviors linked to minority stress – the day-to-day stress faced by stigmatized and marginalized populations – may contribute to the risk of poor physical health among LGBQ youth.

"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth may not only be at risk for worse mental health but also worse physical health outcomes compared to heterosexual youth," said lead study author Lauren Beach, a postdoctoral research fellow at Northwestern University's Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

This is the largest study to date to report differences in levels of , sedentary behavior and obesity by sex and sexual orientation among high-school-aged students. The authors used national data from 350,673 United States high-school students, predominantly ranging between 14 and 18 years old, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to detect disparities in diabetes risk factors by sexual orientation.

The study has just been published in the journal Pediatric Diabetes.

Key study findings:

  • On average, sexual minority and questioning students were less likely to engage in physical activity than heterosexual students. They reported approximately one less day per week of physical activity and were 38 to 53 percent less likely to meet physical activity guidelines than heterosexual students.
  • The number of hours of sedentary activity among bisexual and questioning students was higher than heterosexual students (an average of 30 minutes more per school day than heterosexual counterparts),
  • Lesbian, bisexual and questioning female students were 1.55 to 2.07 times more likely to be obese than heterosexual female students.

Sedentary activity may help escape minority stress

Obesity and sedentary activity may be higher in this population because lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth are subjected to minority stress, Beach said.

"Many of these youth might be taking part in – like playing video games – to escape the daily stress tied to being lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning," Beach said. "Our findings show that minority stress actually has a very broad-ranging and physical impact."

Additionally, cultural and environmental factors may be at play.

"Previous research has shown that body image and standards of beauty might be different among LGBQ compared to populations," Beach said. "We know very little about the physical environments of LGBQ youth. Are these youth less likely to live in areas that are safe for them to be active? We just don't know."

These findings should not be viewed as a "doomsday" for this population, Beach said. Instead, she believes this is an opportunity to improve the health of sexual minority and questioning youth.

Teachers, parents and physicians should work together to ensure these youth have the tools they need to stay healthy, Beach said. Family support and identity affirmation – developing positive feelings and a strong attachment to a group – have been consistently linked to better health among LGBQ youth.

In addition to providing an overall supportive environment, parents should consider asking their children, "Have you been physically active today? Are you active in gym class? Can we do something today to be active together?" And parents should be proactive at doctor appointments and ask the doctor to screen for physical , screen time, diet and their child's weight, Beach said.

'Untapped field of research'

Beach is one of the rare researchers studying this field of physical health among and questioning . Previous studies have examined diabetes and cardiovascular health among LGBTQ people, but that research has largely focused only on adults.

"This is the biggest study of its kind but it's just the tip of the iceberg," Beach said. "There's still so much we don't know, such as what is causing these disparities and what can be done about it. It's a completely untapped field of research."

Explore further: Cyberbullying, unmet medical needs contribute to depressive symptoms among sexual minority youth

More information: Lauren B. Beach et al, Risk Factors for Diabetes are Higher among Non-Heterosexual US High School Students, Pediatric Diabetes (2018). DOI: 10.1111/pedi.12720 , dx.doi.org/10.1111/pedi.12720

Related Stories

Cyberbullying, unmet medical needs contribute to depressive symptoms among sexual minority youth

April 16, 2018
Cyberbullying, dissatisfaction with family relationships, and unmet medical needs are major contributors to the high rates of depressive symptoms seen among adolescents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning their ...

Lesbian, bisexual women may be more likely to develop diabetes due to stress

May 9, 2018
In a newly published study involving 94,250 women across the United States, researchers found that lesbian and bisexual (LB) women were more likely than heterosexual women to develop type 2 diabetes during the course of the ...

LGBQ teens more likely than peers to use dangerous drugs

July 13, 2018
Lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning (LGBQ) teens are at substantially higher risk of substance use than their heterosexual peers, according to a new study led by San Diego State University researchers and published in the ...

Parental sexual orientation and children's psychological well-being

November 8, 2017
In a Child Development study of 21,103 children aged 4-17 years, those with lesbian and gay parents did not differ from children of heterosexual parents in terms of emotional and mental health difficulties, as assessed on ...

Tobacco use in youth higher among sexual minorities

March 28, 2017
(HealthDay)—The prevalence of tobacco use is higher for sexual minorities, with significant differences seen by sex, according to a study published online March 27 in Pediatrics.

Sexual minority youth have higher rates of disordered eating behaviors

July 21, 2016
Sexual minority boys and girls are more likely to purge or take laxatives, use diet pills, or fast to lose weight than their straight peers, and those disordered eating trends may not be improving, according to new research ...

Recommended for you

Researchers have found that incidence of heart failure was around two-fold higher in people with diabetes

December 11, 2018
Researchers have found that incidence of heart failure was around two-fold higher in people with diabetes.

Millions of low-risk people with diabetes may be testing their blood sugar too often

December 10, 2018
For people with Type 2 diabetes, the task of testing their blood sugar with a fingertip prick and a drop of blood on a special strip of paper becomes part of everyday life.

Very low calorie diets trialled by NHS to tackle diabetes

December 7, 2018
Hundreds of thousands of people will receive NHS help to battle obesity and type 2 diabetes under radical action set out by Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England.

New therapeutic avenue for type 2 diabetes

December 6, 2018
Restoring the action of insulin is one of the keys to fighting type 2 diabetes. Researchers from Inserm led by Dominique Langin at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases (Inserm/Université de Toulouse) are ...

Subtype of immune B cells can delay type 1 diabetes onset in mice

December 6, 2018
A team of researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School reports today in the JCI Insight that a subset of immune B cells, known as CD19+IgM+ B cells, can delay the onset of type 1 ...

Is the pancreas regeneration debate settled? An original theory renewed

December 5, 2018
A contentious debate among diabetes researchers has surrounded the regeneration of pancreatic insulin-producing cells: not if these cells regenerate, but rather how.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym518498
1 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2018
mental illness comes in many forms

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.