The American Journal of Public Health has published a new report showing that only 0.5% of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health concern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health issues.
Researchers from the Pittsburgh Public Health's Center for LGBT Health Research carried out the analysis and considered the amount of medical research into LGBT health issues funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to be disproportionately low.
Robert W.S. Coulter, from Pittsburgh Public Health's Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, says:
"In general, LGBT people experience stigma associated with their sexual and gender minority status, disproportionate behavioral risks and psychosocial health problems, and higher chronic disease risk factors than their non-LGBT counterparts."He adds:
"Increased NIH funding for research on these topics, particularly focusing on evidence-based interventions to reduce health inequities, could help alleviate these negative health outcomes."
Coulter and his colleagues found that the NIH funded 628 studies between 1989 and 2011 concerning LGBT health. These stories accounted for 0.5% of all NIH studies in total during this period.
Sub-groups of LGBT populations experience problems such as tobacco use, violence and obesity at higher rates than non-LGBT people.
Of the 628 studies, 519 focused on HIV/AIDS and sexual health issues, with 86.1% focusing on men, 13.5% focusing on women, and 6.8% of the studies focusing on transgender people.
The researchers are also concerned about the low numbers of intervention studies addressing LGBT health. Just 21 NIH-funded intervention studies in this period addressed non-HIV LGBT health issues.
This is significant, Coulter says, because "studies have shown that specific sub-groups of LGBT populations experience health problems like tobacco use, violence and obesity at higher rates than their non-LGBT counterparts."
The Pittsburgh Public Health Center's conclusion? "The NIH is the world's largest source of health research funding and has placed a low priority on LGBT health research."
Why the lack of research?
Coulter believes that the low number of NIH-funded LGBT-focused studies is due to political pressure:
"The political climate has had a chilling effect within the NIH that constrains LGBT health research and appears to be responsible, at least in part, for the marginalization of LGBT research at the NIH."
The report notes a 2003 request made by Republican members of Congress to justify the benefits of nearly 200 NIH projects proposing to study health issues relating to LGBT or other marginalized populations.
The request had a controversial effect on the proposed studies. Some of the researchers involved abandoned their LGBT-themed studies, with some even changing careers. More than half of the remaining researchers removed terms such as "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "AIDS" from their proposals.
What should happen next?
The Center outline several recommendations in their report that they believe will help to redress the shortfall in LGBT research.
Among these, the Center would like to see a focus on LGBT issues on research going beyond HIV/AIDS - including more extensive intervention studies.
They also suggest that promoting diversity among researchers and establishing training grants, awards and fellowships for LGBT health research will expand the pool of researchers interested in pursuing LGBT-focused projects.
The Center's report acknowledges that, more recently, the NIH has been moving to a pro-active role in supporting LGBT projects. As the world's largest source of health research funding they consider its continued support for LGBT research to be vital for stimulating further research into marginalized population health issues.
Written by David McNamee