College Climate and Sexual Orientation Differences in Weight Status

  • Nicole A. VanKimEmail author
  • Marla E. Eisenberg
  • Darin J. Erickson
  • Katherine Lust
  • Melissa N. Laska


Previous research has identified significant sexual orientation disparities in obesity. Contextual factors, like lack of anti-discrimination policies and gay-straight alliances, have been shown to be associated with health outcomes like poor mental health and substance use for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals moreso than their heterosexual counterparts; however, little work to date has explored the role of contextual factors on sexual orientation disparities in obesity. Individual-level, serial cross-sectional data from the 2009–2013 College Student Health Survey, which includes 2- and 4-year college students (n = 29,118) attending 46 Minnesota colleges, were used. College-level data on LGB context were primarily collected through college websites. Multinomial logistic regression models were fit to examine associations between LGB college climate scores (including non-discrimination policies, presence of LGB or diversity-related student groups, LGB courses offered, LGB housing accommodations, and prevalence of LGB students) and students’ weight status (underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese), based on self-reported height and weight. Higher LGB climate scores (i.e., more supportive environments) were associated with lower risk of overweight and obesity among all students. Sexual orientation-stratified findings among female students suggested that the association between LGB climate scores and weight status was similar to the overall female sample. Sexual orientation-stratified findings among male students showed a more complex relationship between LGB climate scores and weight status. More work is needed to disentangle the observed associations, and to investigate other contextual factors, like state- and city-level policies, social networks and norms, and individual resiliency within these contexts to better understand the contextual influences on sexual orientation disparities in obesity.


Sexual orientation College students Weight behaviors Context 


Funding Information

The study was supported, in part, by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R21HD073120 (PI: M. Laska). Further support on this project was provided, in part, by NIDDK Award Number T32DK083250. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official view of the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study utilized publically available data and secondary analysis of previously collected anonymous survey data, which met criteria for exemption by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board (IRB) review. The University of Minnesota IRB approved all CSHS primary data collection prior to this study.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained for all participants in the study.


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biostatistics and EpidemiologyUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst, School of Public Health and Health SciencesAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Division of Epidemiology and Community HealthUniversity of Minnesota School of Public HealthMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent HealthUniversity of Minnesota School of MedicineMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.University of Minnesota, Boynton HealthMinneapolisUSA

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