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Lesbian, Bisexual Women May Be More Likely To Develop Diabetes

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 5/10/2018 Sadhana Bharanidharan
Minority Stress © Minority Stress Minority Stress

Numerous risk factors can contribute toward the development of diabetes, a disease that affects nearly 10 percent of the United States population. Findings of a new study from San Diego State University suggested lesbian and bisexual women may experience an elevated risk compared to heterosexual women.

In the longitudinal study, researchers found a higher rate of diabetes among lesbian and bisexual women compared to heterosexual women. The paper titled “Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Among Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Women: Findings from the Nurses' Health Study II” was published in the May 2018 issue of Diabetes Care.

Participants comprised of 94,250 women of which 1,267 identified as lesbian or bisexual while 92,983 identified as heterosexual. All the women were aged between 24 to 44 years at the start of the study and were followed from 1989 to 2013. Through the study period, a total of 6,399 participants developed type 2 diabetes. 

Compared to their heterosexual counterparts, researchers found lesbian and bisexual women had a 22 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The results also suggested they developed diabetes at younger ages in comparison to heterosexual women. 

While the findings were inconclusive, the authors stated there was enough reason to suspect lesbian and bisexual women may have disparities in chronic physical health conditions because they are “more likely than heterosexual women to have risk factors such as obesity, tobacco smoking, heavy alcohol drinking and stress-related exposures.”

The authors highlighted minority stress and higher body mass index (BMI) as significant contributors to the disparity. The former, as its name suggests, is used to describe chronically high levels of stress experienced by people of minority groups when facing stigma and discrimination. On an average, BMI was noted to be higher among lesbian and bisexual participants, which has also been found in other studies and reviews.

The authors stated stress could be tied to minority discrimination, psychological distress, and violence victimization. Negative experiences can also increase susceptibility to drinking and smoking, as sexual orientation was found to be a primary predictor in previous research.

"Although it is important to address behavioral factors such as physical activity, sedentary behavior, and dietary intake, focusing on these factors alone may not be sufficient to eliminate [lesbian and bisexual] women's disparities in chronic disease," the authors added. They encouraged more efforts to help prevention, detection, and management of diabetes among female sexual minorities, with an emphasis on improved access to care. 

To reduce the risk of diabetes, regular exercise and a healthy diet are the recommended lifestyle habits by doctors. 

"If you can lose weight, it helps to decrease insulin resistance and decreases the risk of progression to diabetes," said Dr. Vinaya Simha, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.

Physical activity uses up glucose from the bloodstream, which can help in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar and build more muscles to elevate the process.

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