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Norfolk study finds link between sexual identity and weight

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:17 23 February 2019

UEA research has found a connection between weight and sexuality. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.

UEA research has found a connection between weight and sexuality. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.

Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be overweight or obese compared to heterosexual women, according to a new report by Norwich researchers.

A study has found that lesbian women are more likely to be overweight. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA WireA study has found that lesbian women are more likely to be overweight. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

Gay men, however, are less likely to be overweight than their straight counterparts, and more at risk of being underweight.

Research from the University of East Anglia and University College London made the findings after collecting data from 12 UK national health surveys involving 93,429 participants and studied the relationship between sexual orientation and Body Mass Index (BMI).

The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, is the first to investigate the relationship between sexual orientation and BMI in the UK.

Lead researcher Dr Joanna Semlyen, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “This is worrying because being overweight and obese are known risk factors for a number of conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and early death.

“We also found that gay men are significantly less likely than straight men to be overweight or obese.

“This study demonstrates that there is a relationship between sexual identity and BMI and that this link appears to be different for men and women.

“There are a number of possible explanations for these findings. We know that sexual minority groups are more likely to be exposed to psychosocial stressors, which impacts on their mental health and their health behaviours such as smoking and alcohol use and which may influence their health behaviours such as diet or physical activity.

“These stressors include homophobia and heterosexism, negative experiences that are experienced by the lesbian, bisexual and gay population as a result of their sexual orientation identity and are known to be linked to health.”

The researchers hope that policy makers and clinicians will be able to use the evidence to provide better healthcare and tailored advice and interventions for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Dr Semlyen added: “We need longitudinal research to understand the factors underlying the relationship between sexual orientation and BMI, and research to understand more about being underweight, especially in this population.”

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