Monday, June 6, 2011
A new report shows gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior than their straight classmates. San Diego Unified was one of six urban school districts included in the survey.
SAN DIEGO Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found sexual minority teens are more likely to engage unsafe behaviors, ranging from not wearing a seatbelt to using methamphetamines.
The report compiled eight years of data from the CDC's Youth Risk Behaviors survey from seven states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, and six urban school districts -- Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco.
The surveys ask students to report which of 76 unsafe or unhealthy behaviors they have engaged in. They include questions about smoking, drug use, sexual activity, diet and exercise.
Researchers said gay, lesbian and bisexual teens might behave more recklessly because they are more likely to be targeted by bullies or feel unsafe.
Marge Kleinsmith's analysis of San Diego's surveys shows related trends.
“I looked at kids who were harassed because they were gay and lesbian and compared their high-risk behavior with kids who were not," said Kleinsmith, who leads sexual health and education programs for San Diego Unified. "And even within our district we saw very high rates of depression, alcohol use -- so a difference in behaviors.”
Kleinsmith and CDC lead researcher, Laura Kann, Ph.D., said while there has long been anecdotal evidence that sexual minority teens were more likely to compromise their own health and safety, the new report is the first wide-ranging research to produce empirical data.
San Diego Unified's efforts to instate a district anti-bullying policy this year is one example of how city schools are trying to create safe environments to help combat this trend, according to Kleinsmith.
“If there’s a strong school connectedness or they have a supportive family, we don’t see the same kind of health risks," she said. "But when you’re talking about kids who are harassed, who don’t feel connected to schools, that’s where you tend to see the depression and the other high-risk behaviors.”
San Diego is one of four areas included in the survey that already train staff on how to address issues faced by sexual minority students.
Kann said she hoped the data would spur more school districts to take similar action.