Adult lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be obese than their heterosexual counterparts, but national weight-and-fitness interventions tailored to their needs are lacking. To address this disparity, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health provided funding for the initiative Healthy Weight in Lesbian and Bisexual Women: Striving for a Healthy Community (HWLB), which involved culturally tailored interventions of 12-16 weeks in ten cities across the United States. The results, published today in a supplement to the journal Women’s Health Issues, suggest the intervention is effective at helping lesbian and bisexual women improve health behaviors.
“The main goal of this study was to create safe and supportive environments across the country where lesbian and bisexual women could solely focus on their health,” said Jane McElroy, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, lead author of the article reporting the study results and principal investigator of LOLA, one of the five programs created in the study. “We are hopeful that these results will motivate other communities to develop tailored interventions to support lesbian and bisexual women achieving the active healthy lives they desire.”
Key findings of the study include the following:
• Nearly 60 percent of the HWLB participants increased their weekly physical activity minutes by 20 percent while 29 percent decreased their waist-to-height ratios by 5 percent.
• 95 percent of HWLB participants achieved one of the health objectives – which included nutrition goals as well as targets for physical activity and weight loss – while 58 percent achieved three or more.
• When participants with specific intervention components were compared to the no-intervention group, those in the pedometer and mindfulness programs were more likely to increase their total minutes of physical activity by 20 percent, and those in the gym group were more likely to experience a 5 percent decrease in waist-to-height ratio.
The HWLB intervention involved five different programs developed through partnerships between research organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community organizations. Each program enrolled lesbian and bisexual women age 40 and older who were overweight, and involved weekly group meetings, nutrition education, and physical activity, as well as pre- and post-intervention surveys.
One of the study sites included Washington, D.C.’s Mautner Project of Whitman-Walker Health. “This study is an important addition to the queer women’s health research canon. It provides important, if perhaps unsurprising, evidence that culturally specific behavioral health interventions can be effective. Our hope is that the successful finding will encourage more funding for the research, development, and implementation of more targeted health interventions that will benefit queer women,” says Jacquetta Brooks, Manager of the Mautner Project of Whitman-Walker Health.
Some programs included comparison groups that did not receive an intervention; overall, the analysis included 266 women who received interventions and 67 women in the comparison group. In addition, programs tailored their content and format based on feedback from community focus groups of lesbian and bisexual women.Each used either a pedometer, gym membership, or a mindfulness approach to healthier habits.
“The collaborations between researchers and community organizations were an integral component of these studies,” said Susan F. Wood, PhD, Executive Director of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and principal investigator for the MOVE program. “Working with the Mautner Project of Whitman-Walker Health allowed our research team to design an intervention that was effective not just for research, but for the health of women we aimed to serve.”