by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
They say that you can judge the worth of a society from the behavior of its youth. If this is true then we are seriously lacking. This month, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released the first nationally representative study on the health risks of U.S. Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) high school students.
CDC officials said the study was conducted 'to understand more about behaviors that can contribute to negative health outcomes among LGB students, a question to ascertain sexual identity and a question to ascertain the sex of sexual contacts was added for the first time to the national and standard Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) questionnaires. (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/index.htm)
The new data offers insight into the health risks of approximately 1.3 million LGB high school students and highlights the need for accelerated action to protect their health and well-being.
CDC analyzed data from the 2015 national survey (conducted among more than 15,000 students in grades 9-12) plus data from 25 state surveys, and 19 large urban school district surveys. The findings are described in a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 'Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 - United States and Selected Sites, 2015.' The report documents the rates at which LGB students reported experiencing substantially higher levels of physical and sexual violence and bullying than other students.
In the report, sexual minority students were defined as those who identified themselves as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual; who had had sexual contact with only persons of the same sex; or who had had sexual contact with persons of both sexes.
'Collecting information about students' sexual identity and about the sex of their sexual contacts is necessary because some students identify themselves as heterosexual but report having sexual contact with only persons of the same sex, whereas some students who identify themselves as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual have not had sexual contact or have had sexual contact with only persons of the opposite sex,' say officials. 'This dissonance is well documented in other research and can be a normal part of the developmental process that occurs during adolescence.'
The report compares the prevalence of 118 health behaviors among sexual minority students to the prevalence of these behaviors among non-sexual minority students. The analyses are possible due to the inclusion of two new questions about sex of sexual contacts and sexual identity on the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).
The findings from this report show the rates at which LGB high school students experience many health risks, compared with heterosexual students. These health risks are most apparent among students who identify themselves as LGB. Specifically, this report found that compared to their heterosexual peers, LGB students are significantly more likely to report:
o Being physically forced to have sex (18% LGB vs. 5% heterosexual)
o Experiencing sexual dating violence (23% LGB vs. 9% heterosexual)
o Experiencing physical dating violence (18% LGB vs. 8% heterosexual)
o Being bullied at school or online (at school: 34% LGB vs. 19% heterosexual; online: 28% LGB vs. 14% heterosexual)
'While physical and sexual violence and bullying are serious health dangers on their own, a combination of complex factors can place young people at high risk for suicide, depression, addiction, poor academic performance, and other severe consequences,' said the CDC.
Data demonstrate that LGB students may be at substantial risk for these serious outcomes:
o More than 40% of LGB students have seriously considered suicide, and 29% reported having attempted suicide during the past 12 months.
o Sixty percent of LGB students reported having been so sad or hopeless they stopped doing some of their usual activities.
o LGB students are up to five times more likely than other students to report using illegal drugs.
o More than 1 in 10 LGB students reported missing school during the past 30 days due to safety concerns. While not a direct measure of school performance, absenteeism has been linked to low graduation rates, which can have lifelong consequences.
With this data in hand, the CDC makes recommendations for students, teachers and parents.
'The majority of LGB students cope with the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults,' said officials. 'However, this report documents that LGB students have a higher prevalence of many health risk behaviors compared with heterosexual students. These data highlight the need for collective action to keep these students safe.'
Although there are no simple solutions to address the health risks LGB students' face, research demonstrates the importance of school, community, and family support for LGB youth.
o Focused public health and school-based actions and policies that support safe and supportive environments for LGB students are key.
o Youth-serving agencies and organizations, including schools, communities and youth-friendly health care centers and providers, can help facilitate access to education and information, health care services, and evidence-based programs and interventions designed to address the health-related behaviors that impact LGB youth.
o Outreach efforts and educational programs can provide parents and families with the information and skills they need to help support LGB youth.
'Because many health-related behaviors initiated during adolescence often extend into adulthood, they can potentially have a life-long negative effect on health outcomes, educational attainment, employment, housing, and overall quality of life,' the CDC said. 'Many LGB students, therefore, need coordinated action to meet their needs and improve their health and well-being.'
The CDC says that in order for LGB students to thrive in their schools and communities, they need to feel socially, emotionally, and physically safe and supported. CDC works with other federal agencies, national nongovernmental organizations, and state and local departments of education, health, and social services to raise awareness about the health risk behaviors and support the health and well-being of LGB students by:
o Developing policies and practices that support the establishment of safe and supportive environments for all students, including LGB students.
o Facilitating access to education, health care, and evidence-based interventions designed to address priority health-risk behaviors among LGB students.
o Implementing programs and providing training for those who work with LGB students to better understand needs and services.
o Summarizing and applying survey results to increase the effectiveness of interventions and programs for LGB teens.
o Providing funding and technical assistance to develop, implement, and evaluate interventions that reduce health risk behaviors and promote healthy practices among LGB students.
o Monitoring the impact of broad policy and programmatic interventions on the health-related behaviors of LGB students.
'CDC calls for accelerated action to protect the health and well-being of these young people,' said officials. 'Coordinated action by schools and communities is needed to protect LGB students and address the health risks they face.'
CDC and its partners are taking action by funding, implementing, and evaluating programs that address many of these health risks and supporting the solutions, including violence prevention, developing tools for education partners to promote healthy school environments for all students, forging national partnerships, and providing scientific leadership.
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