Lesbian and gay young people in England twice as likely to smoke and drink alcohol

Young people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are twice as likely to have smoked than their heterosexual peers, according to new research published in BMJ Open. Lesbian and gay young people were also more likely to drink alcohol frequently and more hazardously.

The interdisciplinary research team comprised researchers from five UK Universities (UCL, University of Cambridge, London Metropolitan University, De Montfort University Leicester and Brunel University), a doctor working in General Practice and a consultant from Public Health England.

The researchers looked at data from over 7,600 participants collected from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. This representative sample of school pupils entered the study at age 13/14 and were followed for five years. All the participants were asked about their cigarette smoking and alcohol use. At age 18/19, they were asked about their sexual identity. This is the first UK study in which representative data has been available. Most previous research in this area has come from the US.

Young people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual (3.5% of the sample) were around twice as likely as heterosexuals to have smoked during the follow-up.

Gay or lesbian participants were more likely to say that they drank alcohol frequently (more than weekly), and report hazardous alcohol drinking patterns (frequent intoxication).

Bisexual participants were more likely to have smoked but had similar alcohol use patterns to their heterosexual peers.

Lead researcher Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson, from the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Our research shows that despite recent social change, young people today who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are twice as likely to have smoked as their heterosexual peers. Gay and lesbian young people also appear to have more frequent and more hazardous alcohol drinking patterns than heterosexuals. Smoking and drinking alcohol frequently and hazardously can lead to chronic disease in later life, and so we should be worried about these health inequalities in this minority group and the longer term consequences they may face.”

Lesbian and gay young people in England twice as likely to smoke and drink alcohol “From a public health perspective, we need to understand why young gay, lesbian and bisexual people are more likely to engage in risky health behaviours than their heterosexual peers,” continued Dr Hagger-Johnson. “This will need to involve longitudinal research, following a large sample of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people over time. We are concerned that ‘minority stress’, resulting from homophobia and heterosexism, might lead people to self-medicate symptoms of anxiety and depression with cigarettes and alcohol.”


Notes to editors

For more information or comment, please contact:

Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson

University College London
Tel: 0207 679 1820 or 07967 157 241
Email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Twitter: @hssghj.

To speak to a UCL Press Officer, contact:

David Weston

+44 (0) 203 108 3844
(out of hours 07917 271 364)
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The paper, ‘Sexual orientation identity in relation to smoking history and alcohol use at age 18/19: cross-sectional associations from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE)’, can be downloaded from: http://bit.ly/15ip1wq

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world’s top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world. UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than £800 million.

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