IoM: Action Needed to Close Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Research Gap

By Krisberg, Kim | The Nation's Health, July 2011 | Go to article overview

IoM: Action Needed to Close Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Research Gap


Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health


CONFRONTED WITH glaring research and data gaps, the Institute of Medicine is calling on researchers to actively include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations in health studies to help create a more complete picture of their health status and needs.

According to a new IoM report released in March, the lack of research is a significant obstacle in addressing unique lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health issues and disparities. While acknowledging the sometimes difficult task of recruiting a relatively small minority of the U.S. population to participate in such studies, the report's authors make a number of recommendations, such as calling on federally funded surveys to be proactive in gathering information on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"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," said authoring committee chair Robert Graham, MD, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "We should strive for the same attention to and engagement of sexual and gender minorities in health research."

In addition to using federally funded surveys to close the information gap, the report called for the collection of sexual orientation and gender identity information in electronic health records. The IoM report addressed the limited opportunities to conduct such research, calling on the National Institutes of Health to develop a training program to heighten awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health issues among researchers. To promote such inclusion, NIH can

build upon already existing policies that address the inclusion of women and racial and ethnic minorities in research, the report stated.

In examining current data, the IoM report concluded that research has not been conducted evenly, with more data on gay men and lesbians than on bisexual and transgender people. However, the report highlighted a number of health issues that can be gleaned from available research. For example, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth have an elevated risk of attempted suicide and depression, and older members of the populations are more likely to rely on friends to be caregivers rather than biological family members.

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