Having sound data is key to making wise, informed decisions. That’s especially true when decisions are being made that affect large groups of people and policies. And that’s especially why the nation’s dearth of information on disparities among sexual and gender minorities, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning individuals (LGBTQ), is a significant public health problem.
Elizabeth Baker, Ph.D., M.P.H., CPH, assistant professor of public health at DMU, is part of a group working to address that lack of information, specifically in Iowa. She and representatives from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, One Iowa and the Iowa Cancer Consortium released survey data from more than 500 LGBTQ Iowans on health, wellness and safety topics today, Oct. 11, the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. The community report may be found here.
“This report is significant, because it represents the largest and most current data set we have on the health and health access of LGBTQ Iowans,” Dr. Baker says.
As the report states, sexual and gender minorities, overall, are “more likely to smoke, be overweight, have greater risk of certain cancers, attempt suicide, encounter discrimination, face social stigma, and be less likely to receive appropriate health care than heterosexual or cisgender peers.” However, very few studies of LGBTQ individuals have been conducted in Midwestern and rural states. That’s a problem for policymakers, health care organizations and public health entities.
“Experts are calling for more representative health-related surveys that collect information from sexual minorities, stressing that epidemiologic profiles are necessary to monitor health trends, plan health promotion activities, and develop and reinforce just legislation for our LGBTQ citizens,” Dr. Baker states.
The report collaborators debuted initial findings of Phase I of the study at the 2018 Iowa Governor’s Conference on Public Health in April and plan to present a more complete analysis at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in 2019. For Phase II, Dr. Baker is moderating a series of state-wide focus groups to enhance the team’s understanding of their quantitative data. She has mentored several DMU osteopathic medical students and an Iowa State University undergraduate who have assisted with Phase II and worked on a National Institutes of Health grant application to extend the study to LGBTQ adolescents in Iowa.
The report, she notes, contains information needed to implement effective policies and programs that protect and promote health for all individuals. Continued research is equally important, she adds.
“Our long-term goal is to continue to track and monitor health-related trends among Iowa’s sexual and gender minorities to better inform health-related services and policies,” she says.