As an academic, I am often cautious about stories criticizing scientific studies due to some esoteric or humorous subject matter. However, I must confess that I am perplexed by the scientific basis or value of a U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) study to understand why lesbians are supposedly fat. The government has spent over $3.5 million thus far on the study, “Sexual Orientation and Obesity: A Test of a Gendered Biopsychosocial Model.” [Some reports however put the original grant at $1.5 million] The study seeks to determine why there is a disparity in the obesity rates between straight women and lesbian women and straight men and gay men.
This is a quote from the study:
“It is now well-established that women of minority sexual orientation are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic, with nearly three-quarters of adult lesbians overweight or obese, compared to half of heterosexual women. In stark contrast, among men, heterosexual males have nearly double the risk of obesity compared to gay males.”
The study is based on the belief that the weight difference of lesbians produces “disparities . . . of high public-health significance.”
The grant was awarded to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to study the relationship between sexual orientation and obesity. The project is overseen by S. Bryn Austin.
I do not see how it is “well-established” that three-fourths of lesbians are overweight or obese. Where does that figure come from? I was surprised to read that such a figure exists, let alone that it is sufficiently reliable to justify a scientific study. While I am not questioning the authority researchers and their work, I am simply surprised as an academic because I would have viewed that figure as anecdotal at best.
The description linked below states that “there is almost no prospective, analytic epidemiologic research into the causes of these disparities.” However, that may be due to the fact that the causes are diffuse and a mix of social, personal, and economic conditions — assuming that the statistic is valid.
Here is the NIH study description.