Social Science researcher finds link between sexual minorities and heightened diabetes risk

August 8, 2019 - Liz Schondelmayer

A new study in the College of Social Science has found higher risks of diabetes among sexual minority individuals.

The study by Sociology professor Dr. Hui Liu, published in LGBT Health, identifies a significantly higher risk for diabetes among sexual minority individuals versus their heterosexual counterparts during their transition from adolescence into adulthood.  This is the first research of its kind to take a look at this problem during this time of life.

The study suggests this behavior is likely due to minority stress. This type of stress refers to the specific and unique stress those in minority communities experience in their everyday lives due to their minority status. According to Dr. Liu, “Sexual minority stress may cause detrimental neurobiological changes and emotional and behavioral problems, such as feeling depressed, overeating, smoking and drinking.”

"Sexual minorities report more victimization, discrimination and maltreatment than heterosexual individuals,” explained Dr. Liu. “These experiences, recognized as major health risk factors, likely affect health by directly causing the sympathetic nervous system to induce the release of stress hormones and trigger physiological responses.” 

The study also identified a stronger association between diabetes risk and sexual minority status among women than among men during the transition to adulthood.

“These findings highlight the importance of designing and implementing policies and programs to alleviate minority stress in childhood and adolescence, especially for girls, to reduce health disparities experienced by sexual minorities,” explained Dr. Liu. 

Dr. Liu also suggests that health disparities between sexual minority individuals and heterosexual individuals emerge early in life, and that the subsequent health gap doesn’t close with adulthood. 

“Our results suggest that interventions should be implemented early in the life course, with programs targeting youth with diverse sexual identities, given the fluid and dynamic nature of sexual orientation. Policies and programs should aim to eliminate heteronormativity and sexuality-based discrimination across all social contexts and to create interventions that reduce the stress responses associated with stigmatized identities that put youth and young adults at risk of diabetes.”