New CDC Report on Health-Risk Behaviors of LGB High School Kids

by Emilia Dunham

Program Associate

New Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts,  and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students  in Grades 9–12 — Youth Risk Behavior  Surveillance, Selected Sites,  United States, 2001–2009” reports on the high health risks round among gay, lesbian and bisexual students from state risk surveys that collect this information. Below are some of the highlights found from the report drawn from the executive summary.

You may recall that the CDC was developing this report from Dr. Frieden’s letter to the Network, and we’ve been discussing the importance of including LGBT questions on the (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey) YRBSS.

Where is the data coming from?

The YRBSS data from 2001-2009, but from only states that collect information on sexual orientation—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin—and six large urban school districts—Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco.

What does it study? (highlighted points show areas LGB students are more at-risk than their peers)

  • Behaviors that contribute to violence (e.g., did not go to school because of safety concerns)
  • Behaviors related to attempted suicide (e.g., made a suicide plan)
  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries (e.g., rarely or never wore a seat belt)
  • Tobacco use (e.g., ever smoked cigarettes)
  • Alcohol use (e.g., binge drinking)
  • Other drug use (e.g., current marijuana use)
  • Sexual behaviors (e.g., condom use)
  • Dietary behaviors (e.g., ate vegetables 3 or more times per day)
  • Physical activity and sedentary behaviors (e.g., physically active at least 60 minutes per day for 7 days)
  • Weight management (e.g., did not eat for 24 or more hours to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight)

 What does it say?

That gay, lesbian and bisexual students are at “disproportionate” risk than their heterosexual counterparts among all these above categories that were studied. In fact the overall prevalence or risk for LGB students was 49-90% higher than that of straight students.

As suspected, the prevalence of current cigarette use among straight students ranged from 8% to 19% but ranged from 20% to 48% among gay and lesbian students.

Bisexual students seemed to have the worst of all health disparities with higher prevalence. For example the prevalence of students who did not go to school because of safety concerns on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey ranged from 4% to 11% among heterosexual students but ranged from 11% to 25% among bisexual students.

What this means?

This report represents the first time that the federal government has conducted an analysis of this magnitude across such a wide array of states, large urban school districts, and risk behaviors. Even more states and cities are now collecting LGB questions in their surveys, so hopefully this will lead to more information, and with increased advocacy of late, even more states will add these questions.

Public health and school health policies and practices should be developed to support the establishment of safe and supportive environments for sexual minority students.

More cultural competency trainings, like requirements we saw of NYC hospital staff, should be required of school staff and faculty.

More needs to be done to assess risk and collect data on LGB (and T) questions on youth surveys. CDC has some answers on what it is doing: LGBTQ Youth Programs-At-A-Glance.

Read more here:

Published by Emilia Dunham, MPP, MBA

Emilia Dunham is currently a Project Manager at MassHealth/Department of Public Health, and formerly the Project Manager of the Life Skills project at The Fenway Institute, an HIV intervention study for young transgender women. Emilia worked at Fenway for 7 years, first as a Quality Control and Regulatory Assistant mainly involved with biomedical HIV prevention trials, before serving as the Program Associate for The Network for LGBT Health Equity, a network instrumental in many national LGBT health policy improvements. She is also involved with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, serving as a Steering Committee member and the Policy Committee Co-Chair, an organization largely responsible for the recent passage of the Trans Rights Bill. Additionally she serves as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, Co-Chair of the Recommendations Committee. Emilia received a Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University. There she served as President of the LGBTQ student group where she planned programs such as Pride Week, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and AIDS Week. In addition, she advocated for LGBTQ inclusive policies and programming on campus such as a Gender Neutral Housing program, an LGBTQ Center and the expansion of Women’s Studies to Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Emilia recently earned a Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration in health policy and management from the Brandeis Heller School School for Social Policy and Management.

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