Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be overweight or obese than heterosexual women, researchers have found.

The new research from the University of East Anglia and UCL, published on Thursday (January 21) in the Journal of Public Health, investigated the relationship between sexual orientation and body mass index (BMI).



The study found that 59.3 percent of lesbians are overweight compared to 57 percent of heterosexual women.

Researchers also observed a “clear” link between sexual orientation and unhealthy weight for both men and women for UK adults.

The study noted the importance of not treating LGBT+ people as a homogenous group, stating: “the gender differences are important to consider in health outcomes and in healthcare needs.”

Gay and bisexual men ‘three times as likely’ to be underweight

Gay and bisexual men are significantly less likely to be overweight than their straight counterparts, but are nearly three times as likely to be be underweight.

“We found that women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are at an increased risk of being overweight or obese, compared to heterosexual women.”

— Dr Joanna Semlyen

According to the data, 3.4 percent of gay men and 2.9 percent of bisexual men are underweight, compared to 1.2 percent of heterosexual men.

While 67.5 percent of heterosexual men are overweight or obese, only 52.4 percent of gay men are.

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The researchers, who pooled data from national health surveys involving 93,429 participants, said that the findings support the argument that “sexual identity should be considered as a social determinant of health.”

Data on transgender people was not available as part of the study.

Overweight LGBT+ people at risk of health problems, researchers warn

Lead researcher Dr Joanna Semlyen, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We found that women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are at an increased risk of being overweight or obese, compared to heterosexual women.

“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.

“Conversely, gay and bisexual men are more likely than heterosexual men to be underweight, and there is growing evidence that being underweight is linked to a range of health problems too, including excess deaths.

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

Overweight: A person holds a tape measure.
File photo. A person holds a tape measure.

The researcher noted that lesbian, gay and bisexual adults “are more likely to be exposed to psychosocial stressors” due to homophobia, “which impacts on their mental health and their health behaviours.”

Semlyen said there need to be more research “to understand the factors underlying the relationship between sexual orientation and BMI,” adding: “We hope that policy makers and clinicians will be able to use this fresh evidence to provide better healthcare and tailored advice and interventions for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

Gay singer Sam Smith recently opened up about his weight and body image, revealing he has “starved himself” for weeks on end for weight loss.




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