The Weight of Bisexuality
By Julia Canfield
The third week of Bisexual* Health Awareness Month, sponsored by the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), focused its lens on nutrition and physical activity. Over the past decade, we have been gaining a clearer picture of chronic disease risk and weight issues within the bisexual community. Bisexual women have higher rates of being overweight and obese compared to heterosexual women, yet more bisexual women are underweight compared to heterosexual women and lesbians. One study in particular also discovered that bisexual women reported elevated rates of heart disease compared to that of heterosexual women and purported these rates may be caused by bisexual women having higher cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI) levels. Men in general have a higher risk of heart attacks than women, and queer men have reported elevated rates of eating disorders than heterosexual men, but more research is needed on the precise weight patterns and heart disease risks among bisexual men.
In addition, a report released last month by the Williams Institute found that 25 percent of bisexuals in the United States receive food stamps compared to 14 percent of lesbians and gay men as a result of experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as having limited or uncertain availability to nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and it is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, substance use, diabetes and hypertension. These poor outcomes are due to the stress of poverty and the inability to afford or access nutritious foods. Bisexuals on food stamps must often load their plates with inexpensive, high calorie processed foods in order to fill their stomachs, which can result in weight gain.
We know that these nutrition and physical acitivity issues are important to the entire LGBTQ community, and we are not saying that bisexual people’s issues take precedence over the rest of the community. However, neither are they less important. We are drawing attention to the bisexual community’s distinctive issues because many people do not realize that these problems are affecting us to such a degree.
How can we fight against these disparities within the bisexual community? Luckily, there are many steps we can take both on an individual and community level:
- Start Moving: Bisexual adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g. brisk walking, dancing, and playing basketball) and 2 days of muscle-strengthening exercises (e.g. yoga, weight lifting, and pushups or sit ups) each week to maintain heart health.
- Eat Healthy: Fenway Health’s Healthy Eating Guide can provide bisexuals with simple nutrition tips and guidelines to improve their diets.
- Decrease Stress: Biphobia, bisexual invisibility, poverty, and other societal stressors can take its toll on bisexuals. It is important, therefore, to practice stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, journaling, deep breathing, and visualization. Bisexuals can also reach out to local and online bisexual organizations for support.
- Get Covered: Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most health insurance plans must cover certain preventive care services, which include nutrition counseling, Type 2 diabetes screening, and cholesterol screening. Bisexuals who need health insurance can find an affordable, nondiscriminatory plan near them at Out2Enroll.
- Find Services: Bisexuals in need of food assistance or nutritional programs can reach out to food banks, food pantries, and several government agencies.
- Fight Food Insecurity: Bisexuals can volunteer at local soup kitchens or lead their own community food drives. Local bisexual organizations can also form their own teams and participate in hunger walks.
We want to hear from you on these issues of food insecurity and heart disease risk in the bisexual community. You can follow Bisexual Health Awareness Month on the Bisexual Resource Center’s Facebook page and follow BRC’s Twitter feed (@BRC_Central) with the hashtag #bihealthmonth. Get involved with the conversation today!
Julia Canfield is a Master’s of Public Health candidate in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health and is interning with the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC) through May 2014. The Bisexual Health Awareness Month campaign was inspired by Julia’s idea for a practicum project. The BRC has been advocating for bisexual visibility and raising awareness about bisexuality throughout the LGBT and straight communities since 1985. The BRC envisions a world where love is celebrated, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. Visit http://www.biresource.net.
* The BRC uses bisexual as an umbrella term for people who recognize and honor their potential for sexual and emotional attraction to more than one gender (pansexual, fluid, omnisexual, queer, and all other free-identifiers). We celebrate and affirm the diversity of identity and expression regardless of labels.