In general, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) older adults were found to be in poorer health than heterosexuals, specifically in terms of higher rates of cardiovascular disease, weakened immune system and low back or neck pain. They also were at greater risk of some adverse health behaviors such as smoking and excessive drinking.
At the same time, however, findings point to areas of resilience, with more LGB adults engaging in preventive health measures, such as obtaining HIV tests and blood pressure screening. While this study did not delve into what causes the poorer health outcomes, UW social work professor Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen pointed to other research, including the School of Social Work-based landmark longitudinal study, Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging and Sexuality/Gender Study, that has identified associated factors.
The study is the first to use national, population-based data to evaluate differences in health outcomes and behaviors among lesbian, gay and bisexual older adults. Using two-year survey data of 33,000 heterosexual and LGB adults ages 50 and older from a probability-based study of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers from the UW School of Social Work report noticeable health disparities between LGB and heterosexual adults.
Hear the KUOW interview with social work professor Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen.
The study indicates that health disparities among lesbian and bisexual women merit greater attention. “Most people think gay and bisexual men would have more adverse health effects because of the HIV risk,” said Fredriksen-Goldsen. “Lesbian and bisexual women tend to be more invisible, less often considered when it comes to health interventions. This is a population that isn’t getting the attention it deserves,” she said.
Bisexual men and women, meanwhile, may be marginalized not only in the general population, but also within gay and lesbian communities. As a result, bisexuals report feeling more isolated and experience greater stress, which, in turn, could lead to more adverse health conditions associated with stress as well as frequent risky health behaviors, according to Fredriksen-Goldsen.