Landmark Study Helps Overweight Lesbian and Bisexual Women Adopt Healthier Habits

July 7, 2016

Media Contact: Kathy Fackelmann, [email protected], 202-994-8354

WASHINGTON, DC (July 7, 2016)—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.

The Healthy Weight programs and locations are as follows:

  • Doing it for Ourselves (DIFO) – Berkeley, CA; El Cerrito, CA; San Francisco, CA; Santa Rosa, CA; Sebastopol, CA
  • Living Out, Living Actively (LOLA) – Columbia, MO; St. Louis, MO
  • Making Our Vitality Evident (MOVE) – Silver Spring, MD; Washington, DC
  • Strong, Healthy, Energized (SHE) – New York City
  • Women’s Health and Mindfulness (WHAM) – Berkeley, CA and San Francisco, CA

The study’s health objectives included increased consumption of fruits and vegetables; reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages; reduced consumption of alcohol; increased weekly physical activity minutes; moving up in physical activity category (inactive, sufficiently active, or health-enhancing physical activity); improved physical quality of life; improved mental quality of life; 5 percent decrease in weight; and 5 percent decrease in the ratio of waist circumference to height. 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.”

Eight articles on HWLB appear in the July/August Women’s Health Issues supplement. Women’s Health Issues is the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based at Milken Institute School of Public Health. In addition to articles describing the program design and overall results, supplement papers report on study recruitment and participation; focused curricula for healthcare providers; effects of mindfulness interventions; participants’ responses to the program; women who selected “something else” in response to the survey’s sexual orientation question; and a subgroup of women who were obese but metabolically healthy. Program materials are online and available for use by other organizations.


About Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University: Established in July 1997 as the School of Public Health and Health Services, Milken Institute School of Public Health is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital. Today, more than 1,900 students from 54 U.S. states and territories and more than 50 countries pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral-level degrees in public health. The school also offers an online Master of Public Health, MPH@GW, and an online Executive Master of Health Administration, MHA@GW, which allow students to pursue their degree from anywhere in the world.