, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 60-74

Sexual orientation and body weight: Evidence from multiple surveys

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Previous research on sexual orientation and body weight has relied primarily on small convenience samples. I use data from two large representative public health surveys to examine the relationships between sexual orientation and body weight. First, I present new estimates of obesity rates by sexual orientation from the 2001 California Health Interview Survey (which contains information on self-reported sexual orientation) and the 1996–2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (which contains information on intra-household same-sex unmarried partnerships). I find evidence in both surveys that gay men are much less likely to be obese relative to their heterosexual counterparts, while lesbians are much more likely to be obese. These differences cannot be easily explained by other demographic characteristics, and there is no evidence that the differences are related to differences in physical activity or muscle strengthening activities. Moreover, I find that obese gay men are less likely to be in a partnership relative to their obese heterosexual male counterparts, even after controlling for the overall lower likelihood of partnership among gay men. This suggests that minority sexual orientation may exacerbate the barriers associated with obesity.

Christopher Carpenter ia an assistant professor of Economics/Public Policy at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Irvine. His research focuses on health policy evaluation and the relationships between sexual orientation and economic well-being. He has recently published a methodological paper on the measurement of sexual orientation (Contemporary Economic Policy, 2004).