Women's health research to start soon

  • by Mickey Eliason
  • Wednesday July 31, 2013
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Mickey Eliason
Mickey Eliason

Federal research funding has virtually ignored sexual minority women since the government got in the business of granting money for research. Most federal dollars for LGBT health have gone to HIV/AIDS research focusing on men who have sex with men, with only a smattering of funding for any other health topic. In 2012, this fact was brought up in a White House conference on LGBT health, and the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, almost immediately made an appropriation to the Office on Women's Health to fund a call for proposals to study "healthy weight" in lesbian and bisexual women.

Some of us who are longtime health advocates in lesbian/bisexual women's communities were disappointed about the focus on weight in this first-ever call for projects on lesbian/bisexual women. Nevertheless, we could not pass up the chance to develop health programming for sexual minority women. We have long known that lesbian and bisexual women suffer disproportionately from some types of health problems and have difficulties accessing quality, non-discriminatory health care. Older women also face the challenges of aging as well as the stresses of sexism and homophobia " and often racism, classism, ableism, and a host of other intersecting oppressions on top of that.

So we proposed Doing It For Ourselves, a 12-week health education and support program that focuses broadly on physical, mental, and community health and wellness for the target population specified by the Office on Women's Health: lesbian and bisexual women 40 and over who are at risk for weight-related health problems. Some biomedical research has shown that health problems are a bit more common in women who have a body mass index (BMI) over 27, so the grant targets this population. However, Doing It For Ourselves is about nutrition (not dieting), physical activity, group support, stress reduction, food justice issues, and many other topics, and is based on a "health at every size, shape, and ability level" model. We got a great deal of valuable input from a community advisory board and four focus groups on what the content and format of the program should be. Some key feedback included the importance of a focus on wellness and quality of life rather than weight loss, and the value of being taught by peers and of peer support for achieving health-related goals.

Groups will begin to form in September and will be held at the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, an East Bay location, and Oakmont retirement community in Santa Rosa, which has a large LGBT population. We will be offering the groups for the next year at no cost, and will provide participants with gift cards for filling out several research questionnaires. Doing It For Ourselves is a community-driven, peer-led group. If it proves effective, we hope to distribute it widely across the country via our website and training materials for others who wish to facilitate or join the group.

Doing It For Ourselves is one of five projects funded by the Office on Women's Health. Lyon-Martin Health Services will also run a group program, Women's Health and Mindfulness, led by a health care professional and using a more clinic-based approach. Other projects were funded in New York City, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. Doing It For Ourselves is a collaboration between myself, the Berkeley Policy Associates evaluation firm in Oakland, and the LGBT Community Center.

If you are interested in learning more about the program, please contact Deborah Craig (deborah@bpacal.com or 510-717-3382), Mickey Eliason (meliason@sfsu.edu), or view our website http://www.lavenderhealth.org/difo/. Another way to learn about our program " and to have fun and connect with lesbian and bisexual women aged 40 and older " is to come to our kickoff event at the LGBT Community Center Saturday, August 3, from 2 to 6 p.m. for games, activities, discussion, information, and a dance from 3:30 to 6 " all tailored for 40-plus women. We hope for this to be the first of many events for older Bay Area lesbian and bisexual women in the of any size, shape, or ability level, because we believe that good health should be fun and that healthy communities will translate into more healthy individuals.


Mickey Eliason is an associate professor in the Health Education Department of San Francisco State University.