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Nation’s Top Health Survey Asked Americans About Their Sexual Orientations. Here’s What They Said.

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"Nation’s Top Health Survey Asked Americans About Their Sexual Orientations. Here’s What They Said."

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Utah Pride Prade 2014

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

In 2013, the National Health Interview Survey asked respondents their sexual orientation for the first time, creating an important new opportunity for understanding the health of well-being of people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual (LGB) across the country.

According to data provided to the Washington Post, the survey demonstrates some notable disparities between respondents who identified as gay and straight. In particular, individuals who identified as gay were more likely to be current smokers (26 vs. 18 percent) and were more likely to have consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one day in the past year (33 vs. 22 percent). This jibes with other studies that have found the LGBT community is more likely to smoke and smoke more than the general population and more likely to abuse alcohol.

At the same time, gay respondents were more likely to meet the federal guidelines for aerobic physical activity (56 vs. 49 percent), to have ever been tested for HIV (67 vs. 37 percent), and to have received the flu vaccine during the past year (46 vs. 41 percent).

The survey also found that people who identified as bisexual were more likely to have experienced psychological distress in the past 30 days than straight-identified people. This finding, along with other disparities found, adds to the research identifying unique physical and mental health challenges faced by bisexual people due to anti-gay stigma, biphobia, and bi erasure.

Unfortunately, the survey still did not ask any questions about gender identity, so it provides no information about the transgender community.

The number of people who self-identified as LGB for the survey was notably lower than other studies have found. Only 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian and another 0.7 percent identified as bisexual. Because this reflects how a person self-identifies and not necessarily their behavior and relationships, it may not be an accurate portrayal of how many LGB people there actually are. Moreover, this was the first time the survey invited respondents to identify their sexual orientation, and some may not have felt comfortable doing so honestly for a questionnaire that asked other personal questions about their health and lifestyle.

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