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Homophobic Communities Shorten Lifespans

Update Date: Feb 17, 2014 11:12 AM EST

Anti-gay prejudice significantly shortens the lifespan of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, according to new research.

A new study reveals that living in a community with high levels of anti-gay prejudice shortens the life expectancy by an average of 12 years.

"The results of this study suggest a broadening of the consequences of prejudice to include premature death," lead researcher Mark Hatzenbuehler, PhD, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health said in a news release.

"Our findings indicate that sexual minorities living in communities with higher levels of prejudice die sooner than sexual minorities living in low-prejudice communities, and that these effects are independent of established risk factors for mortality, including household income, education, gender, ethnicity, and age, as well as the average income and education level of residents in the communities where the respondents lived," said Hatzenbuehler.

"In fact, our results for prejudice were comparable to life expectancy differences that have been observed between individuals with and without a high school education," he added.

The latest study used data on prejudicial attitudes from the General Social Survey to determine the average level of anti-gay prejudice in communities where LGB individuals lived. Researchers compared information on sexual orientation and community-level prejudice to mortality data from the National Death Index from 1988 to 2008.

The findings revealed that LGB individuals who lived in communities characterized by high versus low levels of prejudice and found that 92 percent of the LGB respondents living in low-prejudice communities were still alive compared to only 78 percent of the LGB respondents living in high-prejudice communities by the end of the study.

The findings also revealed that rates of suicide, homicide, violence and heart disease were all significantly higher among sexual minorities living in high-prejudice communities.

Researchers also found that LGB respondents living in high-prejudice communities died of suicide 18 years earlier on average than those living in low-prejudice communities at 37.5 and 55.7 respectively.

The findings also show that 25 percent of deaths among LGB respondents living in high-prejudice communities were caused by cardiovascular disease compared to 18.6 percent in low-prejudice communities.

"Psychosocial stressors are strongly linked to cardiovascular risk, and this kind of stress may represent an indirect pathway through which prejudice contributes to mortality. Discrimination, prejudice, and social marginalization create several unique demands on stigmatized individuals that are stress-inducing," said Hatzenbuehler.

The findings are published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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