Lesbian health weighed down
Lesbians are more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese than heterosexual women, a US study has found.
The researchers concluded that lesbians were at a greater risk for morbidity and mortality linked to being overweight or obese.
Ulrike Boehmer at the Boston University of Public Health used data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth to compare population estimates of obesity across sexual orientation groups.
Lesbians were 2.69 times more likely to be overweight and 2.47 times more likely to be obese than their heterosexual counterparts.
While the reason for some lesbians being overweight or obese arises from many of the same sources as it does for women in general, including older age and lower levels of education, a 2003 study into the correlation of obesity among lesbian women identified some more subtle reasons.
“There is tentative evidence that lesbians have somewhat different norms or preferences for body weight than heterosexual women,” the researchers from the UCLA School of Public Health and the University of California wrote.
The young women’s project officer at ACON, Siri May, was apprehensive about the studies, stating that lesbians were also more likely to engage in regular, vigorous exercise than heterosexual women.
“It depends how we are measuring obesity and what it is that worries us about it,” she said.
“Because if it is related to health, then it is an issue. But if it is related to aesthetics then it is probably not such a bad thing that there is a group of women in society who are not trying to be skeletal.”
Women of a “normal” weight were classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25. Those who were said to be “overweight” had a BMI between 25 and 30, and those classified as “obese” had a BMI of more than 30.
The California researchers said there was an expectation that the higher BMI observed among lesbians was due to a higher level of muscularity as opposed to excess body fat.
Their observations were inconsistent with this, however, finding that 48 percent of lesbians with BMI values greater than 25 still met the criteria for obesity.
The researchers called for increased public health attention to health services planning and research to ensure lesbian women were not “left behind” in addressing the obesity epidemic in the United States.
May was not convinced that there was a major issue among lesbians and obesity in Australia.
“I am aware that there are certain demographics within the lesbian community that have higher levels of obesity,” she said.
“But I am a little sceptical about how researchers measured obesity. Being obese is also influenced by bone structure, your metabolism, muscle density and genetics. And I am not sure that was taken into account.”
Stephen Matthews from Gold’s Gym said it was possible to be “overweight” and still healthy.
One of the key concerns is waist measurement. He said, “Your waist should never measure more than ½ of your height.
“To get the proper waist measurement, find your belly button, suck in your stomach while taking a deep breath and then measure,” he said.