Sexual orientation and weight, body image, and weight control practices among young Australian women

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2009 Mar;18(3):355-62. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2007.0765.


Objectives: We compare weight, body image, and weight control practices of young adult Australian women according to sexual orientation.

Methods: Cross-sectional analyses of the second survey of 9683 young adult women in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH); the weight, weight control practices, and body image of exclusively heterosexual, mainly heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian women were compared.

Results: Lesbians were less likely to be dissatisfied with their body image (body weight: beta -0.64, 95% CI -1.10- -0.18; body shape: beta -0.83, 95% CI -1.27- -0.40; overall: beta -0.74, 95% CI -1.14- -0.32), to cut down on fats and sugars (OR 0.53, 95% CI 0.34-0.85), and to engage in healthy weight control practices overall (OR 0.48, 95% CI 0.29-0.81) compared with exclusively heterosexual women. Compared with exclusively heterosexual women, bisexual women were more likely to weight cycle (OR 2.22, 95% CI 1.22-4.03). Compared with exclusively heterosexual women, mainly heterosexual and bisexual women were more likely to engage in unhealthy weight control practices overall (mainly heterosexual: OR 1.76, 95% CI 1.42-2.17; bisexuals: OR 2.89, 95% CI 1.57-5.33), such as smoking (mainly heterosexuals: OR 1.83, 95% CI 1.38-2.44; bisexuals: OR 3.80, 95% CI 1.94-7.44) and cutting meals (mainly heterosexuals: OR 1.58, 95% CI 1.23-2.02; bisexual women: OR 3.45, 95% CI 1.82-6.54). Mainly heterosexual women were more likely to vomit (mainly heterosexuals: OR 2.41, 95% CI 1.73-3.36) and use laxatives (mainly heterosexuals: OR 1.56, 95% CI 1.12-2.19).

Conclusions: Future research should explore why bisexual and mainly heterosexual women are at higher risk of disordered eating behaviours. Understanding why lesbians have a healthier body image would also provide insights into how to improve the body image of other groups. It is critical that public health policy and practice address less healthy weight control practices of sexual minority groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Bisexuality / psychology
  • Bisexuality / statistics & numerical data*
  • Body Image*
  • Body Weight
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Heterosexuality / psychology
  • Heterosexuality / statistics & numerical data*
  • Homosexuality, Female / psychology
  • Homosexuality, Female / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Self Concept
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult