Historic LGBT Health Study Released

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April 6, 2011
By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
A historic report on LGBT health was released on late last week.

The Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of The National Academies have written The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding.

Two of the members of the IOM Committee are Judith B. Bradford, PhD, and Harvey J. Makadon, MD, of The Fenway Institute in Boston.
Bradford and Makadon hope the report will guide the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as they design and fund research projects aimed at documenting and addressing LGBT health disparities.

The IOM report acknowledges that LGBT people have unique health experiences and needs, but that as a country, we lack a good understanding of what these experiences and needs are. It also recommends steps to ensure that clinical researchers identify and address these needs.

The Committee on LGBT Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities was formed a year ago in response to a request from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for guidance on researching LGBT health issues. The committee conducted an extensive review on the health status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations in preparation for issuing their recommendations.

From the available research, the committee found that LGBT youth have an elevated risk for attempted suicide and depression, and sexual minority youth may have higher rates of substance use than heterosexual youth. Another major problem to accessing quality health care for LGBT adults is a lack of providers who are knowledgeable about LGBT health needs as well as a fear of discrimination in health care settings.

“It was a great privilege to participate in the IOM process. At The Center for Population Research in LGBT Health at The Fenway Institute, we are constantly trying to centralize and improve data on the health of LGBT US residents so that there is a better understanding of the health needs of our community,” said Bradford, who serves as the Director of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health and Co-Chair of The Fenway Institute.

Bradford said there was a lack of information concerning certain subpopulations in the LGBT community.

“Most of what we know is about gay men and lesbians. We know very little from scientific studies about bisexual men and women, with the exception of AIDS, and we know virtually nothing about transgender people,” Bradford explained.

The reasons why LGBT health needs haven’t been more effectively addressed are due to a number of factors, such as a lack of response from LGBTs to health surveys. Bradford said the wording of the surveys has to be done in a way so members of the community will feel comfortable sharing private information about themselves with researchers.

“Scientifically, (the LGBT) community is a difficult population to study. You have to have measures that ask questions in a way that people will answer them,” Bradford said.

“It is incredibly gratifying to be part of the team that helped assemble this historic Institute of Medicine report,” added Makadon, the Director of Education and Training at The Fenway Institute. “This effort is clearly an important first step to creating an agenda that will advance the health of LGBT individuals. Aside from a research agenda, we must recognize the importance of educating health professionals about LGBT issues and creating welcoming environments for care. Studies show a reluctance to care for LGBT individuals and education about LGBT health issues in medical schools and schools for other health professionals is minimal.”

For a link to the report, go to www.fenwayhealth.org.