The US Center for Disease Control CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health MDPH has recently released the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).
Researchers conducted an "in depth" survey that screened for health disparities among heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian/homosexual, and bisexual adults. The survey sampled individuals from 2001 to 2006 and included data from 38,910 individuals, including 1.9% who identified as gay/lesbians/homosexual and 1.0% who identified as bisexual. The report suggested that differences in health exist based on data collected from this "population based" estimate of sexual orientation.
Poorer outcomes among homosexual populations include:
Disability-related activity limitations
Current and past tobacco smoking
30-day binge drinking and substance use
Lifetime and 12-month sexual assault victimization
The report also indicated that bisexual respondents fared worse than heterosexual/straight residents in terms of: access to health insurance, as well as medical and dental providers; heart disease; anxious and depressed moods, 12-month suicide ideation; current tobacco smoking, and lifetime and 12 month sexual assault victimization.
The results underscored a tide of poor health outcomes that are worse than expected for homosexual populations when compared to heterosexual populations. Specifically, the report noted that higher level of education generally results in better overall health. The report concluded, however, that although homosexual respondents reported higher levels of education, several health outcomes were worse than non-homosexual populations. Similarly, the report noted that health protective behavior, such as condom use and HIV testing among gay/homosexual men, was higher than in heterosexual populations. The report noted that this was an "encouraging" trend, but adds:
"However, absolute levels of health promoting behavior may be inadequate given the higher prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with men" (Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 2008, p. 17).
What the report doesn't elaborate on is why the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Health leads readers to believe that these results are just "coming out" or are that they are being reported "for the first time." Historical and current research reveals evidence for significant concern about the mental and physical health and probable longevity of homosexual individuals. As a group, those who engage in homosexual practices tend to have higher mental and physical health risks and potentially much shorter life spans. Research has consistently demonstrated that homosexual sexual practices place individuals at risk for some form of mental disorder ranging from mood disorders, to suicide (Herrell et al, 1999; Ferguson et al, 1999; Bailey, 1999; Sandfort et al, 2001; Ferris, 1996). Further, studies have even shown that these differences continue to be the same even among societies that accept homosexuality (Berman, 2003). This report is clearly not the first to present differences by sexual orientation as researchers who conducted this survey seem to assert.
It is unclear why the CDC and MDPH seem to assert that this study is the first of its kind in reporting differences in health based on sexual orientation, but it is clear that these types of studies have some level of impact on the public's perception about lifestyle choices that clearly put individuals and groups at higher risk for poorer health. Ethicality would suggest that the CDC report the relationship between behavior and disease so that the public are able to make more healthy and informed choices. Ethicality would also suggest that treatment options be made available for those who are concerned about or dissatisfied with their sexual behavior and want to explore the therapy aimed at maximizing heterosexual potential.