- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2014

Gay, lesbian and bisexual adults are likelier to smoke and be heavy drinkers compared with heterosexuals, but all groups are likely to report being in “excellent” or “very good” health and have access to health care, says a first-of-its-kind federal report released Tuesday.

The findings, based on answers from more than 34,000 adults, reveal that 1.6 percent of the population is gay or lesbian, 0.7 percent is bisexual, and 97.7 percent is heterosexual.

The study is intended to help the federal government understand and promote health behaviors and well-being in all populations, including sexual minorities, as part of its Healthy People 2020 goals, said health statistician Brian W. Ward and his colleagues at the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the new report.

But the government has struggled to first define sexual orientation in a survey and then collect enough answers “to permit meaningful analyses,” they wrote.

In 2013, researchers added some sexual orientation questions to the National Health Interview Survey, a decades-old survey that is conducted year-round and in person with trained interviewers.

For the first time, some 34,557 adults were asked if they identify as “straight, that is, not lesbian or gay,” lesbian or gay, bisexual, “something else” or “I don’t know the answer.” People who chose the last two answers were asked a few more questions to see if they could agree to an identification. People could also choose not to answer.

Based on the results, researchers estimated there were about 2 million gay men, 1.7 million lesbians, 481,000 male bisexuals, 1 million bisexual females and 224 million heterosexual adults in the United States.

When researchers looked at health measures, it found that all sexually defined groups were likely to say their health was excellent or very good, although gay men (66 percent) were the most likely to say this.

More than half of all groups also met federal guidelines for aerobic physical activity.

The vast majority of all adults reported having health insurance, and roughly three-quarters or more of all adults said they had “a usual place” to go for medical care.

Gay or lesbian adults were most likely to have private health coverage (69 percent) compared with heterosexuals (65 percent) and bisexuals (57 percent). Bisexuals were more likely to have public health care (19 percent) compared with heterosexuals (16 percent) or gays and lesbians (15 percent).

Bisexuals, however, were most likely not to have health insurance (24 percent), compared to heterosexuals (20 percent) and gay or lesbian (17 percent).

When researchers looked at specific health issues, they found some disparities:

Bisexuals registered the highest levels for serious psychological distress in the past 30 days (11 percent) and obesity (35 percent), compared to the other groups.

Some 30 percent of bisexuals and 27 percent of gays or lesbians were current cigarette smokers, compared to 20 percent of heterosexuals.

Some 42 percent of bisexuals and 35 percent of gays or lesbians said they had drank alcoholic beverages in the last year, including a day when they had five or more drinks, while 26 percent of heterosexuals said the same.

Heterosexuals were least likely to have been tested for HIV (42 percent), compared to gay or lesbian adults (69 percent) and bisexuals (54 percent).

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