By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students are more likely than heterosexual students to engage in such risky behavior as smoking, drinking alcohol and carrying guns, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
"This report should be a wake-up call for families, schools and communities that we need to do a much better job of supporting these young people," said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Heath.
"We are very concerned that these students face such dramatic disparities for so many different health risks."
The study, which surveyed 156,000 high school students and was released on Monday, is the largest of its kind by the federal government.
Researchers analyzed data from student surveys conducted from 2001-2009 in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, and also in the Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, San Diego and San Francisco school districts.
When asked if they had driven a car while drinking alcohol within the last 30 days, 15.4 percent of gay and lesbian students responded "yes," compared to 7.8 percent of heterosexual students.
The gap was even greater on whether students had carried a gun at least one day during the previous month. About 12 percent of gay and lesbian students said they had carried a gun, almost four times more than heterosexual students.
There also was a large disparity with cigarette smoking, with 27.8 percent of gay and lesbian students reporting they had smoked more than 10 cigarettes in a day during the previous month compared to 9.1 percent of heterosexual students.
Gay and lesbian students were much more likely to have seriously contemplated suicide, the study found. Nearly 30 percent of those students said they had considered suicide compared to 11.7 percent of heterosexual students.
The study results quantify what advocates say they have long known anecdotally.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual youths are often driven to risky behavior because they are rejected by their families and other support groups, said Laura McGinnis, spokeswoman for the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis counseling and suicide prevention programs for youths.
"We've known this for years but the research hasn't been there to back it up," she said.
She said the new data should help increase the awareness of policymakers and lead to more training for school staff members.
Wechsler said efforts to promote adolescent health and safety should take into account the "additional stressors these youth experience because of their sexual orientation, such as stigma, discrimination, and victimization."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)