Skip to main content

Pubertal Stress and Nutrition and their Association with Sexual Orientation and Height in the Add Health Data


A number of studies have indicated that gay men tend to be shorter, on average, than heterosexual men. Less evidence exists that lesbian women are taller, on average, than heterosexual women. The most popular explanation of the association between sexual orientation and height involves prenatal factors, such that, for example, gay men may have been exposed to lower than typical androgens during fetal development, which impacts their height and sexual orientation as adults. An alternative explanation involves stress, given that stress has been associated with sexual minority identification and with lower height. Another alternative explanation involves nutrition, although its relationship is less clear with sexual minority identification. Using the Add Health data, which is a large, nationally representative and longitudinal sample of American adolescents (n = 14,786), we tested a mediation model, such that sexual orientation → pubertal stress/nutrition → height. Within men, we found that gay men (n = 126) were shorter, on average, than heterosexual men (n = 6412). None of the 24 pubertal stress-related and 15 pubertal nutrition-related variables assessed in the Add Health data mediated the relationship between sexual orientation and height in men. Within women, lesbians (n = 75) did not differ significantly in stature compared to heterosexual women (n = 6267). Thus, prenatal mechanisms (e.g., hormones, maternal immune response) are likely better candidates for explaining the height difference between gay men and heterosexual men.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Our primary goal with respect to mediation was to examine stress as a mediator. Nutrition was included because variables measuring some aspects of nutrition were available in the dataset used here and there was, as mentioned, some (weak) rationale for examining it as a mediator.

  2. The data in this study could be tested using a moderation model (e.g., stress moderating the relationship between sexual orientation and height); however, moderation is not the focus of this study, and asks a different question (of “when”) than what we are interested in answering in the current study, which is “why.”

  3. For all categorical stress and nutrition variables, logistic regression analyses were also run. Results were the same with the following exceptions: physical disability of the participant was not significant, suicidal thoughts was significant, and eating eggs at breakfast was now marginally significant. We chose to keep the GLM analyses within the paper so that a-path, b-path, c-path, and mediation analyses all used GLM.

  4. Parental rejection was not included in this analysis, although parental rejection was associated with height, in the unpredicted direction (Table 3). We defined a subpopulation of individuals that included male participants with non-missing data on the parental rejection variable. When we conducted the linear regression analysis of sexual orientation predicting height within this subpopulation of participants, the sexual orientation and height association was not significant. This subpopulation of individuals includes a significantly smaller sample size (n = 5655) than for the original analyses within males of the sexual orientation and height association (n = 6475) (with a reduction from n = 126 to n = 105 of gay men). Thus, the association was no longer there in this subsample likely because of a power issue due to loss of sample size needed to detect the small sexual orientation and height effect.


Download references


This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis. Thank you to M. Ashton and C. M. McCormick for helpful comments on early drafts of this paper. Thank you to D. Molnar for help with statistical analyses. A version of this paper was included in the Ph.D. dissertation for M. N. Skorska. Data acquisition was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to A. F. Bogaert [335-737-042].

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Malvina N. Skorska.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study by the Add Health researchers. Ethics approval for secondary data analysis was received from the Brock University Research Ethics Board.



See Table 5.

Table 5 Questions and response options from the Add Health data for each nutrition and stress-related variable utilized in the current study

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Skorska, M.N., Bogaert, A.F. Pubertal Stress and Nutrition and their Association with Sexual Orientation and Height in the Add Health Data. Arch Sex Behav 46, 217–236 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Sexual orientation
  • Height
  • Stress
  • Puberty
  • Physical development
  • Add Health