Government Releases First Large-Scale Health Data on Gay Community

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 8: Marchers carry a rainbow flag in the LA Pride Parade on June 8, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. The LA Pride Parade and weekend events this year are emphasizing transgender rights and issues. The annual LGBT pride parade begin in 1970, a year after the Stonewall riots, and historically attracts more than 400,000 spectators and participants. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Marchers carry a rainbow flag in the LA Pride Parade on June 8, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. The LA Pride Parade and weekend events this year are emphasizing transgender rights and issues.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Less than three percent of the population identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual (GLB), a new federal health report shows.

The report, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) earlier this week, is the first large-scale government data on the GLB population. The report found that while significant disparities between the gay and straight population exist with regard to specific health indicators, there is no general correlation between overall health and sexual orientation.

The data comes from more than 34,000 responses to the 2013 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual government survey used to monitor the nation’s health. The survey asks questions about specific health behaviors including smoking habits, drinking habits, and physical activity. This year, questions relating to sexual orientation were included on the survey for the first time in its 57-year history.

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Four questions pertaining to sexual orientation were included on the survey, the first asked: “Which of the following best represents how you think of yourself?”

Male respondents could choose to identify as “gay,” “straight, that is, not gay,” “bisexual,” “something else,” or “I don’t know the answer.” Female respondents had slightly different options and could choose to identify as “lesbian or gay,” “straight, that is, not lesbian or gay,” “bisexual,” “something else,” or “I don’t know the answer.”

Selected health status indicators of U.S. adults, by sexual orientation and sex: United States, 2013
Selected health status indicators of U.S. adults, by sexual orientation and sex: United States, 2013
CDC/NCHS, National Health Interview Survey, 2013

According to the survey responses, 96.6 percent of adults ages 18 years and older identify as straight, 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identified as bisexual. These numbers are significantly lower than most American’s estimate. A 2012 Gallup Survey shows that U.S. adults, on average, approximate a quarter of the population to be gay or lesbian.

Here are some of the most interesting findings from the report:

More women identify as bisexual than men. According to the survey, 0.9 percent of women identify as bisexual compared to 0.4 percent of men.

Gay people smoke more than their straight counterparts. According to the results, more GLB persons (29.5%) are current smokers than straight persons (19.6%). The greatest disparity is in women smokers: 27.2 percent of gay or lesbian women and 29.4 percent of bisexual women smoke compared to 16.9 percent of straight women.

Gay people binge drink more than their straight counterparts. A higher percentage of gay or lesbian (35.1 %) and bisexual (41.5 %) adults reported having consumed five or more drinks in one day over the past year than straight adults (26.0%).

More gay people get flu shots than straight people. A higher percentage of gay men (46.1%) and women (42.9%) received an infulenza vaccine in the past year than straight men (30.9%) and women (35.0%).

More straight men are obese than gay men. A higher percentage of straight men ages 20-64 (30.7%) are obese than gay men (23.2%).

Bisexual persons experience significantly more psychological distress than their straight counterparts. According to the results, more bisexual adults (11.0%) experienced serious psychological distress in the past 30 days than straight adults (3.9%).

The government’s decision to begin gathering health data on sexual orientation is a huge step for the GLB population as the NHIS data influences government health funding and research decisions. While differences in health outcomes by race, ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic status have long been documented, this is the first study comparing the differences in health outcomes by sexual orientation.

“This is a major step forward in trying to remedy some of these gaps in our understanding of the role sexual orientation and gender identity play in people’s health and in their lives,” Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a research center at the University of California at Los Angeles that studies the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population told the Washington Post.