Health Disparities by Sexual Orientation: Results and Implications from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

J Community Health. 2017 Dec;42(6):1163-1172. doi: 10.1007/s10900-017-0366-z.


Until recently, population-based data for monitoring sexual minority health have been limited, making it difficult to document and address disparities by sexual orientation. The primary objective of this study was to examine differences by sexual orientation in an array of health outcomes and health risk factors using one of the nation's largest health surveys. Data for this study came from 8290 adults who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) and 300,256 adults who identified as heterosexual in the 2014-2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Logistic regression models were used to compare physical and mental health outcomes, health condition diagnoses, and health risk factors by sexual orientation, controlling for demographic and socioeconomic status. Controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, gay and bisexual men reported higher odds of frequent mental distress [odds ratio (OR) 1.71, P = 0.001; OR 2.33, P < 0.001] and depression (OR 2.91, P < 0.001; OR 2.41, P < 0.001), compared with heterosexual men. Lesbian and bisexual women had higher odds of frequent mental distress (OR 1.53, P < 0.001; OR 2.08, P < 0.001) and depression (OR 1.93, P < 0.01; OR 3.15, P < 0.001), compared to heterosexual women. Sexual minorities also faced higher odds of poor physical health, activity limitations, chronic conditions, obesity, smoking, and binge drinking, although these risks differed by sexual orientation and gender. This study adds to the mounting evidence of health disparities by sexual orientation. Community health practitioners and policymakers should continue to collect data on sexual orientation in order to identify and address root causes of sexual orientation-based disparities, particularly at the community-level.

Keywords: Health disparities; LGBT health; Sexual orientation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Risk Behaviors*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexuality / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult