Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Study: Gay Men are Skinnier, Lesbians are Heavier than Heteros

The women I work with are always teasing me about being skinny. At 5'8", I currently weigh in at 162 lbs., up from my more comfortable 155 lbs. I gained a few after I quit smoking in January and it's been difficult to get back down to my fighting weight.

Most of the women I work with are "curvy". They're constantly trying new diets and bemoaning their weight and have no sympathy for my excess 7 vanity pounds. I've tried to explain that there's "fat" and then there's "gay fat", but I don't think they get it. While I may not be shopping at the big and tall stores, the pants are a little tighter. But my girls turn a deaf ear as they thumb through the newest sales fliers from Lane Bryant.

The lone person at work who stays out of the debate and just stands back and laughs at all of us, is my lesbian supervisor. While she's not skinny, she's not exactly fat either. In her head, she's just right and doesn't sweat it one way or the other.

The results of a Massachusetts study shows that gay men are 50% less likely than their straight counterparts to be overweight and lesbians are twice as likely to be overweight than straight women. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health this month, raises some interesting questions about body image and suggests some interesting answers.

Researchers suggest that people (straight women and gay men) who are sexually involved with men tend to feel more pressure to stay thin. Conversely, people (straight men and lesbians) who are involved with women tend to care less about their own size. This may help to prove what we've always known on some level, that men are superficial pigs and women care more about what's on the inside.

MSNBC reports:
After scrutinizing a health survey of more than 67,000 Massachusetts residents between the ages of 18 and 64, the researchers found that 14 percent of gay men were obese versus 21 percent of straight men. The opposite was true of gay women: 26 percent were found to be obese, as compared with 17 percent of the straight women.

The researchers also found that both gay men and gay women were more likely to be current smokers compared to their heterosexual counterparts. And gay women were more likely to have multiple heart disease risk factors than straight women.

Earlier studies that looked at health in the gay community focused mostly on sexually transmitted diseases and mental health, rather than on chronic illnesses like obesity and heart disease, says the study’s lead author Kerith Conron, an associate research scientist at Northeastern University and a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. “This may mean that we in the public health community need to come up with more tailored messages to reach these groups, just as car dealers do when they want to reach a specific target audience,” she said.

Conron suspects that cultural differences might at least partly explain the weight divide. It may be more acceptable in the lesbian community for women to be full-sized, she said.

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