The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results from the first nationally representative study on health risk behaviors of gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) high school students in August 2016.

These data were collected through the Youth Risk Behavior Survey ( YRBS ) questionnaire. The YRBS questionnaire was developed in 1990 as a way to monitor health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in youth and young adults. Areas covered by the survey include behaviors related to unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors, dietary behaviors, and physical activity. Data are collected every 2 years through national, state, territorial, tribal government, and local school-based surveys of representative samples of 9th-12th grade students.

In 2015, questions about sexual identity and sex of sexual contacts was added for the first time to the national standard YRBS questionnaire, giving us a picture of how health-related behaviors compared between sexual minority youth and nonsexual minority youth.

For the study, sexual minority youth were defined as those who identified as GLB; those who reported sexual contact with members of the same sex only; and those who reported sexual contact with members of both sexes. It is important to note that the YRBS is a school-based survey and does not include youth who do not attend school, for example, homeless and runaway youth.

Exploring and identifying disparities in health behaviors that affect sexual minorities can help us as providers to better target screenings for these health behaviors at the individual level. At the population level, it is important to continue to explore why these differences exist and to continue to develop interventions that help address these differences, while educating families and communities about how to support all of their youth. It is important to note that the majority of sexual minority youth live healthy live; however, this study shows that sexual minority youth do have a higher prevalence of certain health risk behaviors, likely leading to the health disparities we see in this population. Select findings of this study are summarized in the accompanying table.

Continued study is needed to understand the health disparities that occur in sexual minority populations. In October, the National Institutes of Health designated sexual and gender minorities as a specific health disparity population for NIH research. This term encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals as well as any individuals whose sexual identity or gender identity does not align with traditional norms. This hopefully will lead to a growing body of evidence to help all of us learn about the spectrum of sexual and gender identity and better help sexual and gender minority youth reach their full potential.

For more information about the YRBS and the report on health related behaviors in sexual minority youth visit this link :

Dr. Chelvakumar is an attending physician in the division of adolescent medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Ohio State University, both in Columbus.