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Lesbian and bisexual women are at greater risk of diabetes

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As diabetes affects millions of people across the world, lesbian and bisexual (LB) women would do well to take greater preventive measures. A study has found that LB women are at more risk of developing type 2 diabetes than heterosexual ones, due to stress.

The study, involving 94,250 women across the United States, was led by San Diego State University. The co-authored study, led by Heather L. Corliss, investigated the incidence of type 2 diabetes in lesbian and bisexual women and heterosexual women.

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For the study, the team analysed survey results dating back to 1989 from women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II, which is one of the largest investigations into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. All women were between the ages 24 to 44 at the start of the study and were assessed for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes every other year to identify the incidence, from 1989 to 2013. The women self-identified their sexual orientation and, of the participants, 1,267 identified as lesbian or bisexual and 92,983 identified as heterosexual. Diabetes was assessed by self-reported clinician diagnosis.

Corliss and her colleagues found over that 24-year time period that lesbian and bisexual women had a 27% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than heterosexual women. In 2013, 6,399 women had developed type 2 diabetes with lesbian and bisexual women having a 22% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The team also found that lesbian and bisexual women developed type 2 diabetes at younger ages than heterosexual women and that a higher body mass index in lesbian and bisexual women was an important contributor to disparities found. “Given the significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes before age 50 years among LB women, and their potentially longer duration of living with type 2 diabetes, LB women may also be more likely to experience complications compared with heterosexual women,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

Stress is an important consideration, here. The team noted that stress related to discrimination, violence victimization and psychological distress, were reportedly higher for lesbian and bisexual women, and these factors may contribute to higher rates of health-related issues for those women. “Although it is important to address behavioural factors such as physical activity, sedentary behaviour and dietary intake, focusing on these factors alone may not be sufficient to eliminate LB women’s disparities in chronic disease,” the team explained.

The findings appear in the journal Diabetes Care.

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