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Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2016 Feb;51(2):289-301. doi: 10.1007/s00127-015-1116-0. Epub 2015 Aug 23.

Sexual orientation disparities in physical health: age and gender effects in a population-based study.

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Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Berzelius väg 3, 171 77, Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA.



Recent studies have identified substantial health disparities between lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals compared to heterosexuals. However, possible variation in sexual orientation health disparities by age and according to gender remains largely unexplored.


To examine physical health disparities between LGB and heterosexual individuals in a general population sample in Sweden, to explore potential age and gender differences in these disparities, and to test potential mechanisms underlying any observed disparities.


Between 2008 and 2013, 60,922 individuals (16-84 years of age) responded to nationwide population-based health surveys. In the sample, 430 (0.7%) individuals self-identified as gay/lesbian and 757 (1.3%) self-identified as bisexual. Logistic and negative binomial regression analyses were used to explore health disparities based on sexual orientation.


Overall, LGB individuals were more likely to report worse self-rated health as well as more physical health symptoms (e.g., pain, insomnia, dermatitis, tinnitus, intestinal problems) and conditions (e.g., diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure) compared to heterosexuals. However, these physical health disparities differed by age. Disparities were largest among adolescents and young adults and generally smallest in older age groups. Health behaviors and elevated reports of exposure to perceived discrimination, victimization, and threats of violence among sexual minorities partially explained the sexual orientation disparities in physical health.


Age emerged as an important effect modifier of physical health disparities based on sexual orientation. Gender-specific findings suggest that sexual orientation disparities persist into adulthood for women but are gradually attenuated for older age groups; in contrast, for men, these disparities disappear starting with young adults. These results support a developmental model of minority stress and physical health among LGB individuals.


Gay/bisexual; Health behaviors; Life span; Minority stress; Self-rated health; Sexual orientation

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