A study involving 94,250 women across the US found that lesbian and bi women were more likely than heterosexual women to develop type 2 diabetes during the course of the 24-year study follow up.
The co-authored study (“Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Among Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Women: Findings from the Nurses’ Health Study II”) was led by Heather L. Corliss, and was published in Diabetes Care.
The researchers investigated incidence of type 2 diabetes in lesbian and bi women and heterosexual women in a large, longitudinal US cohort. Specifically, the team analyzed survey results dating back to 1989 from women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II, which is one of the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women.
All women involved were between the ages 24 to 44 at the start of the study and were assessed for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes every other year to identify incidence, from 1989 to 2013. The women self-identified their sexual orientation. Of the participants, 1,267 identified as lesbian or bi and 92,983 identified as heterosexual. Diabetes was assessed by self-reported clinician diagnosis.
The researchers found over that 24-year time period that lesbian and bi women had a 27% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than heterosexual women. In 2013, 6,399 women had developed type 2 diabetes with lesbian and bisexual women having a 22% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
They also found that lesbian and bisexual women developed type 2 diabetes at younger ages than heterosexual women, and that a higher body mass index in lesbian and bi women was an important contributor to the disparities.
“Given the significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes before age 50 years among lesbian and bi women, and their potentially longer duration of living with type 2 diabetes, LB women may also be more likely to experience complications compared with heterosexual women,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
Now, and “despite inconclusive findings”, the researchers stated that “there is a reason to suspect that lesbian and bi women may have disparities in chronic physical health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, because they are more likely than heterosexual women to have risk factors such as obesity, tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol drinking and stress-related exposures.”
Stress is an important consideration here because stress related to discrimination, violence victimization and psychological distress continue to be reportedly higher for lesbian and bi women, and these factors may contribute to higher rates of health-related issues for them.
The researchers recommend addressing behavioral factors, such as physical activity, sedentary behavior and dietary intake, but they stressed that “focusing on these factors alone may not be sufficient to eliminate lesbian and bi women’s disparities in chronic disease.”
As such, “enhanced public health and clinical efforts to prevent, detect and manage obesity and type 2 diabetes among lesbian and bi women – along with improved access to care – are crucial needs.”
The researchers also recommending expanding research into sexual orientation-related differences in disease management and on the overall health of lesbian and bi women to get vital understanding on the implications of disease on their subsequent health risks and prognosis.”