Health Related Outcomes among Heterosexual and Sexual Minority Youth and Young Adults
Type of Degreedissertation
Human Development and Family Studies
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Study I: Using data from Waves I thru IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), the current study compared initial levels, rates of change, and quadratic curvature in three measures of substance use (cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use) over a 13 year period (starting in high school) in four cohorts of self-identified sexual minority (gay, lesbian, and bisexual) and heterosexual youth and young adults. Using individual growth curve modeling, findings indicated that in general, with a few exceptions, sexual minority youth did not have higher initial levels of substance use, nor did they vary in their rate of change (both instantaneous and quadratic) when compared to heterosexual youth. In addition, we tested the protective influence of religiosity on the developmental trajectory of substance use with a specific focus on whether it operates differently between the two groups. Again, findings provide little evidence that religiosity operates differently as a protective factor on substance use by one’s sexual orientation. This suggests that sexual minority and heterosexual youth and young adults report few differences in the developmental course of these select substance use outcomes. Implications of these findings are discussed and recommendations for future work are provided. Study II: While much of the literature on sexual minority youth health and well-being has focused on psychological factors, physical health has not been as readily studied. Using Wave IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), N = 15,701, the current cross-sectional study assessed to what extent self-identified sexual minority young adults (age 24-32) differ from heterosexual young adults on five measures of health (general health, blood pressure, self-medication, sleep problems, and susceptibility to illness). In addition, we tested three risk (perceived stress level, inability to handle stress, and social isolation) and three protective (close friendships, romantic relationship quality, and optimism) factors. Results indicated that sexual minority young adults had higher levels of physical health problems, and differing patterns of risk and protective factors when compared to heterosexual young adults. Thus, understanding sexual orientation and how it relates to health outcomes is an important area for further study.