“It was only when researchers made deliberate efforts to engage women and racial and ethnic minorities in studies that we discovered differences in how some diseases occur in and affect specific populations,” Graham added.

He noted, “We should strive for the same attention to and engagement of sexual and gender minorities in health research.”

The IOM report, titled “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding,” was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

The report, one of the most comprehensive reports on LGBT health to date, includes information from an 18-month review that began in 2009. The report is designed to outline a plan for the NIH to design and fund research to uncover disparities in LGBT health.

The report is “historic,” according to Dr. Judith Bradford, director of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health at The Fenway Institute and one of the committee members.

“The IOM report assembles existing research and makes recommendations for next step priorities. This provides a framework for identifying and reducing health disparities among sexual and gender minorities and directly supports the health of our community. It is truly historic,” Bradford said in a statement.

According to the 14-member committee of health experts from universities across the nation, compiling data on the health of LGBT people is difficult because LGBT individuals are a minority of the population, making it hard to recruiting enough participants in LGBT health studies to gather needed data.

Also, the stigma LGBT people face is another drawback to gathering information about LGBT health because many fear revealing their sexual orientation.

“The scarcity of research yields an incomplete picture of LGBT health status and needs, which is further fragmented by the tendency to treat sexual and gender minorities as a single homogeneous group,” the committee noted.

How to improve LGBT health data

To accurately gather information on LGBT people and their health issues, the committee came up with a list of recommendations for the NIH:

• The NIH should implement a research agenda designed to advance knowledge and understanding of LGBT health.
• Data on sexual orientation and gender identity should be collected in federally funded surveys administered by the Department of Health and Human Services and other relevant federally funded surveys, similar to race and gender.
• Data on sexual orientation and gender identity should be collected on electronic health records, with adequate privacy and security protection.
• NIH should support the development and standardization of sexual orientation and gender identity measures.
• NIH should support methodological research that relates to LGBT health.
• A comprehensive research training approach should be created to strengthen LGBT health research at NIH.
• NIH should encourage grant applicants to address explicitly the inclusion or exclusion of sexual and gender minorities in their samples.

 

Top photo: Documenting sexual orientation and gender identity in health research could lead to discovering whether any diseases or conditions impact LGBT differently, says Dr. Robert Graham. (courtesy University of Cincinatti)

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