In the past few months published research on health and wellness of LGBT youth has further developed our understanding of health related issues youth in our community face. First, research on e-cigarette usage shows troubling trends with youth, which worries us particularly because of higher rates of tobacco use and experimentation among LGBT youth. Somewhat related to this is that LGBT youth also were found to face higher cancer risks.
Knowing that LGBT teens drink at higher rates, but a new study explains that stress caused by their LGBT status may influence their drinking. While the presence of and gay-straight alliance (GSA) in high schools reduces the risk of illicit drug use and prescription drug misuse; we can probably thank the reduction in stress due to the presence of the GSA for that! Meanwhile, teen students who are out in school reported higher levels of self-esteem and lower depression, but higher rates of victimization, especially in rural areas, due to their LGBT status. While the effects of bullying in youth impacts mental health well into middle age.
One third of sexual minority youth exhibit some unhealthy weight control behavior (bulimia, diet pill use, fasting) and many were identified as having unrealistic self-body images, with males self-perceiving as overweight when they were underweight or of normal weight, with females it was the opposite, self-perceiving as being a healthy weight when overweight or obese. Steroid use was found to be 600% higher for gay male teens than their straight counterparts, because of implicit values in popular culture and gay media that constructs muscle mass as a trait directly related to masculinity.
The major themes we see emerging again and again are that bullying, stress and body image may all be interrelated and have terrible health consequences. While affirming environments and programs mitigate stress, and reduce risk factors. We have the data that points us in the right direction; advocating for LGBT-inclusive environments and programs produces positive health outcomes and is a sound evidence-based policy move. Let’s start to bring this sort of evidence to our educators and legislators!