Lesbian body image differs from that of women overall

Over three-quarters of lesbian adults (77%) describe their body weight as overweight while 67% of all female adults surveyed describe their body weight as overweight.

Surprisingly, however, when the body mass index (BMI) is applied to survey responses, the percentage of overweight adult women (80%) is much closer to the proportion of overweight lesbian women (84%). In this survey, lesbians more accurately perceived their body weight than women in general. In addition, lesbians and women describe themselves as fit or very fit in similar numbers -- 19% of lesbians vs. 17% of all women surveyed.

These are highlights of a new survey of 2,209 U.S. adults aged 18 or older conducted online between January 11 and 16, 2005. In this study, 119 adults were self-reported GLB respondents and there was an additional over-sample of 341 self-reported lesbians. The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive, a worldwide market research and consulting firm, in conjunction with Witeck-Combs Communications, a strategic public relations and marketing communications firm with special expertise in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender market; it was also conducted in conjunction with National LGBT Health Awareness Week.

"Being overweight may be the most significant contributor to our nation's epidemic of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a number of other chronic or life threatening illnesses. It is, without a doubt, one of our nation's top health concerns," said Colleen Dermody, Vice President of Witeck-Combs Communications. "These results enable us to gauge where lesbians may be found on the healthcare continuum."

Some key findings from the survey include:

  • Of the total lesbians surveyed, 13% fall within the recommended range on the body mass index and of all women surveyed, 11% fall within the recommended range.
  • Half of the lesbians (51%) surveyed say they exercise regularly, compared to 38% of all GLB adults, 43% of all women and 47% of adults overall.
  • About the same percentages of lesbians and heterosexuals (42%) and all adults (43%) said that they overeat while just over half of GLB adults (53%) say they overeat.
  • There is a higher incidence of smoking among lesbians (42%) and GLB adults overall (38%) compared to heterosexuals (24%) or all adults (25%).

Smoking and Diet Contribute to Lack of Fitness

Among all adults and heterosexuals who said they were somewhat or not fit, overeating (35%), eating fast food (25%), and smoking (16%) ranked as the top three factors that respondents felt contributed most to their lack of fitness. Among lesbians, smoking was the number one choice of contributors (29%) while overeating was the top contributor among GLB adults (45%) and all women (35%).

"It is encouraging that among lesbians there is some self-awareness about body weight," said Dr. Dawn Harbatkin, Medical Director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York, a founding member of the National Coalition for LGBT Health. "What we don't yet know, and what we must establish, is whether lesbian adults understand the health risks of being over weight or obese. We feel that all public health awareness campaigns conducted by the CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should include messages specific to lesbians. Like every American, their health may depend on it."

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