Lesbian women are 41% more likely to be obese

Lesbians are more likely to be overweight than straight women ‘because of stress’, study claims (but gay men are in better shape than heterosexuals)

  • But gay men are 28% less likely to be overweight or obese than straight males 
  • Gay men are  three times as likely as straight males to be clinically underweight
  • Researchers want sexual orientation to be social determinant of health 
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Lesbian women are at greater risk of being overweight than heterosexual women, research suggests.

A study of more than 90,000 British adults also that found gay men are less likely to be overweight than straight men.

The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, is the first to investigate the relationship between sexual orientation and body mass in the UK.

Lesbian women are at greater risk of being overweight than heterosexual women (stock)

The researchers, from the University of East Anglia, said sexual identity should be considered as a social determinant of health. 

They found women identifying as lesbian were 41 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese than straight women, and bisexual women had a 24 per cent increased risk.

Gay men, meanwhile, were 28 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese than straight men. Bisexual men were no more or less likely than heterosexual men to be overweight.

The researchers, however, also found gay men were three times as likely as straight men to be clinically underweight, and bisexual men twice as likely.

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Lead researcher Dr Joanna Semlyen, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘We found that women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are at an increased risk of being overweight or obese, compared to heterosexual women.

‘This is worrying because being overweight and obese are known risk factors for a number of conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and early death.

‘Conversely, gay and bisexual men are more likely than heterosexual men to be underweight, and there is growing evidence that being underweight is linked to a range of health problems too, including excess deaths.

‘We also found that gay men are significantly less likely than straight men to be overweight or obese.’

She added: ‘This study demonstrates that there is a relationship between sexual identity and BMI and that this link appears to be different for men and women.’

Dr Semlyen said there are several possible explanations for the findings.

‘We know that sexual minority groups are more likely to be exposed to psychosocial stressors, which impacts on their mental health and their health behaviours such as smoking and alcohol use and which may influence their health behaviours such as diet or physical activity.

‘These stressors include homophobia and heterosexism, negative experiences that are experienced by the lesbian, bisexual and gay population as a result of their sexual orientation identity and are known to be linked to health.

‘We hope that policy makers and clinicians will be able to use this fresh evidence to provide better healthcare and tailored advice and interventions for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

‘We need longitudinal research to understand the factors underlying the relationship between sexual orientation and BMI, and research to understand more about being underweight, especially in this population.’


Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.

A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.

Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age. 

For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.

Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese. 

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.

This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.

Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.

Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.

Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers. 

This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.

Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.

Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults. 

And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.  

As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.  

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