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Death looms closer for heterosexuals with anti-gay bias

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Some bad news for those with anti-gay prejudices: homophobia comes at a cost, slicing an average of 2.5 years off life expectancy - chalking up yet another reason to adopt a more tolerant attitude.

The study, Anti-Gay Prejudice and All-Cause Mortality Among Heterosexuals in the United States, was published in the February 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The report analyzed mortality data in the context of homophobic attitudes, with intolerance to the LGBT community quantified via surveys and proportional hazards models to determine the findings.

Led by Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, the study found a 2.5 year discrepancy between the lifespans of those who admitted prejudice and those who did not. The researchers examined the results of the General Social Survey-National Death Index from 1988 to 2002, looking solely at heterosexual responders. Additional mortality data from the National Death Index was derived up until 2008.

The study also looked at socio-economic status and demographical data, the key link was stress, with data gleaned from homophobic candidates found to be more likely to suffer from a lack of social ease and, subsequently, adopting detrimental habits. "Existing evidence suggests that, for highly prejudiced people, intergroup interactions are stressful," the research team wrote. "Stress in turn is associated with less healthy behavior, such as overeating, smoking and heavy drinking. These health behaviors are therefore likely mechanisms linking anti-gay prejudice to mortality." As such, the resulting deaths were largely of cardiovascular failures.

It should be noted that the study did not conclusively clarify whether homophobia or bigotry in general was to blame for the earlier deaths, though the findings did lean towards anti-gay bias being a more dangerous factor. The team was "unable to determine whether it is anti-gay prejudice in particular, or prejudice more broadly, that is associated with mortality among majority-group members. However, our sensitivity analyses indicated that anti-gay prejudice increased mortality risk more strongly than racial prejudice."

A similar study, also led by Dr. Hatzenbuehler, found that homosexual people living in prejudiced communities died, on average, 12 years earlier than those living in more tolerant environs. "Our findings indicate that sexual minorities living in communities with higher levels of prejudice die sooner than sexual minorities living in low-prejudice communities, and that these effects are independent of established risk factors for mortality, including household income, education, gender, ethnicity, and age, as well as the average income and education level of residents in the communities where the respondents lived," said Hatzenbuehler.

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