National Institutes of Health releases report on LGBT health

National Institutes of Health Director

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins.

By Patrick Paschall, Task Force Policy Counsel

Today, the nation’s medical research agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), released a report identifying gaps and opportunities in LGBT health research at the various institutes, centers, and offices operated by NIH. In conjunction with the release of the report, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins announced that writers of the report will continue to operate as a coordinating committee of LGBT issues across the various institutes, centers, and offices at NIH and with the rest of the Department of Health and Human Services to develop an integrated approach for exercising the many opportunities for LGBT progress at NIH.

Today’s NIH report reveals some interesting findings.  First, the report finds that NIH had conducted 232 large projects that research LGBT health during the period of time studied (FY2010, the most recent year for which they have complete data). These only represent large-scale projects whose overall focus has an impact on the LGBT community – it does not include smaller studies, which may have deeper research on discreet issues that impact the LGBT community. NIH is already putting resources into researching a variety of issues, especially HIV/AIDS, Behavioral and Social Sciences, Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Among the overall number of projects that include LGBT health issues, the report further analyzes whether the projects are LGBT-specific, LGBT-relevant, or Not LGBT-Specific but still have substantial impact on the LGBT community. Here, they found that over 16% of the LGBT projects are LGBT-specific projects, including program language that specifically targets the LGBT population in its research. The current LGBT activities at NIH are overwhelmingly focused on research – 69% of the projects are research projects awarded through NIH. Additionally, 14% of LGBT activities are focused on training and career development.

The results of the report also largely reflect what we already know in terms of research gaps: there is very little research on LGBT community; we need more data on older LGBT people and LGBT youth, and we need more specific research on lesbian, bisexual and transgender populations; that little research has been done on the intersections of sexual orientation and gender identity with race and ethnicity.  Researchers are currently searching for methodologically effective means of developing sexual orientation and gender identity demographic questions for inclusion in a variety of health surveys, and until those demographic questions are created we will have a hard time collecting data on the LGBT population.

Also of note, the report identifies that, of projects NIH identified as LGBT projects, a mere 3.9% include transgender-specific health needs. This is an area of research identified by the Institute of Medicine as a significant research need, and the report tells us there is a lot of work to be done in this area.

This report was commissioned in light of the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 report “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding,” a comprehensive analysis of the current state of science on the health status of LGBT populations, including recommendations for change.  The IOM report, which we blogged about in 2011 when it came out, highlights the fact that the biggest health issue facing the LGBT community is a lack of research on what health disparities the LGBT community experiences.

This release is an important step in ensuring that research institutions better serve the LGBT community by increasing funding to LGBT-specific research projects and ensuring that those projects focus on sub-populations of the LGBT community at the intersections of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, national origin, and socioeconomic status. The release of this report also achieves an objective identified by the Department of Health and Human Services LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee in its 2012 Annual Report. You can read the whole report, including the HHS annual objectives, here.

While there are still many needs in LGBT research, this report helps identify a starting point, and NIH is creating the necessary mechanisms to ensure that the research needs of the LGBT community are fully met. We commend NIH for releasing this important report and reestablishing its commitment to seeing the recommendations from the 2011 Institute of Medicine report come to fruition.

Read the full NIH Report here.