Religious Climate and Health Risk Behaviors in Sexual Minority Youths

A Population-Based Study

A study exploring the relationship between health risk behaviors of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth and the religious environment of their communities found that the religious climate in which LGB youths live can determine their health risk behaviors.

The authors collected data on 31,852 high school students (including 1,413 LGB students) who participated in the Oregon Healthy Teens survey from 2006–2008, and used U.S. census information on religious adherents for 85 denominational groups in 34 Oregon counties. The authors examined denominational websites, doctrinal statements and resolutions for stances on homosexuality, and determined whether denominations blessed same-sex unions or ordained gay clergy. The authors examined possible confounding variables in community climate, such as the proportion of same-sex partner households.

LGB youths living in counties with supportive religious climates had fewer alcohol abuse symptoms and sexual partners than LGB youths in counties with unsupportive religious climates. This effect was the same for heterosexual youth, albeit less pronounced. Religious climate had no major effect on tobacco use for either LGB or heterosexual youth. These results were strong even after being adjusted for confounding variables.

The authors argue that interventions to minimize the negative psychosocial consequences of stigmatizing social environments should be a public health priority.