MONDAY, June 6, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- One of the first and largest national studies of the behaviors of American high school students finds that those who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are more likely than their heterosexual peers to take unhealthy risks.
The study was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and used national survey data from 2001-2009. It found that rates of smoking, drinking or other drug use, risky sexual behaviors, suicidal behaviors and violence were higher among gay or bisexual teens than among their straight peers.
"This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people. Any effort to promote adolescent health and safety must take into account the additional stressors these youth experience because of their sexual orientation, such as stigma, discrimination and victimization," Howell Wechsler, director of CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH), said in an agency news release. "We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks."
The data comes from the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted over the past decade in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin and in six large urban school districts -- Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego and San Francisco.
Besides gathering data on smoking, drinking and drug abuse, the study also examined rates of school absenteeism due to "fear of violence," condom use, physical fitness, good/poor diet or problems with weight management, such as extended fasting to lose weight.
The CDC found that gay or lesbian students' had higher prevalence rates for seven of the 10 health risk categories -- violence, attempted suicide, smoking, drinking, other drug use, risky sexual behaviors and weight management issues. Findings were similar for bisexual students, the agency said.
"For youth to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally and physically safe and supported," Laura Kann, chief of the Surveillance and Evaluation Research Branch at DASH, added in the news release. "Schools and communities should take concrete steps to promote healthy environments for all students, such as prohibiting violence and bullying, creating safe spaces where young people can receive support from caring adults, and improving health education and health services to meet the needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth."
The findings were published June 6 in the CDC's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
There's more on the well-being of gay and bisexual youth at the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.