First longitudinal study on lesbian health

A researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing has launched what is believed to be the first-ever longitudinal study of lesbian health.

Funded under a four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the study will examine changes over a three-year period in patterns of drinking including drinking levels, heavy episodic drinking and intoxication and the factors that influence those changes.

"Understanding factors that increase or buffer lesbians' risk will permit the development of more culturally relevant prevention and intervention strategies," said Tonda Hughes, associate professor of nursing at UIC and the study's principal investigator. An expert on lesbian health and on women and addiction, Hughes has been studying women's drinking behavior for 15 years.

"Although it is assumed that lesbians are at heightened risk for alcohol-related problems, very few studies have addressed risk and protective factors," Hughes said. "Moreover, few studies have included comparison groups of heterosexual women."

Her sample one of the most diverse samples ever included in a study of lesbian health includes 450 lesbians in the Chicago area, recruited with the help of community-based organizations, community leaders and many individual women. Ranging in age from 18 to 84, more than half are women of color.

All of the women were interviewed as part of an earlier study Hughes conducted on lesbians' health and life experiences. Hughes will interview the women again in three years to assess changes in their drinking patterns.

She'll also compare the group with heterosexual urban and suburban women included in the National Study of Health and Life Experiences of Women, a 20-year longitudinal study of more than 1,600 women in the United States.

In the earlier study, also funded by the National Institutes of Health, Hughes examined rates of drinking, drinking patterns

Contact: Sharon Butler
University of Illinois at Chicago

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