Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., has received two grants administered by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to study the relationship between sexual orientation and obesity.
“Obesity is one of the most critical public health issues affecting the U.S. today,” the description of the grant reads. “Racial and socioeconomic disparities in the determinants, distribution, and consequences of obesity are receiving increasing attention.”
“[H]owever, one area that is only beginning to be recognized is the striking interplay of gender and sexual orientation in obesity disparities,” it states. “It is now well-established that women of minority sexual orientation are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic, with it continues.
“In stark contrast, among men, heterosexual males have nearly double the risk of obesity compared to gay males.”
The investigators say there has been “almost no” research devoted to this disparity, and they have set out to find the biological, psychological, and social factors behind it.
The project is being led by S. Bryn Austin, Director of Fellowship Research Training in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. Austin is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, and an Associate Epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), which is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.
BWH first received a $778,622 grant for the study in 2011, followed by a $741,378 grant in 2012, totaling $1,520,000. The project has the potential to be a five-year study.
The grants list a “project end date” and a “budget end date” of June 30, 2016. The researchers said the subject is one of “high public-health significance.”
However, the NICHD said the future of the project is uncertain because of the sequester--automatic spending cuts that took effect on March 1.
"The NIH is currently assessing the impact on funding due to sequestration," said Robert Bock, Press Officer for the NICHD. "It is not possible to say how this (or any other NIH grant) will be affected in the long term beyond the 90 percent funding levels already in place."
"Obesity is a serious public health problem affecting a large proportion of the U.S. population," Bock said. "The study is examining reasons why the risk of obesity varies according to sexual orientation, in order to inform the development of future strategies to prevent obesity."
The researchers said the subject is one of “high public-health significance.”
“It will be impossible to develop evidence-based preventive interventions unless we first answer basic questions about causal pathways, as we plan to do,” they said. “Our study has high potential for public health impact not only for sexual minorities but also for heterosexuals, as we seek to uncover how processes of gender socialization may exacerbate obesity risk in both sexual minority females and heterosexual males.”