'Unhealthy' gay lifestyle claims tied to bad study

THE controversial claims by some Christian leaders that gay men die younger than heterosexual men appear to have originated from flawed US research that was funded by a Christian research group.

Sydney's Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen, drew strong criticism for comments on ABC TV's Q&A on Monday night that the gay lifestyle led to a "significantly shorter life".

He was responding to comments by the Australian Christian Lobby chief, Jim Wallace, that a homosexual lifestyle was as unhealthy as smoking.

One of several studies by Paul Cameron and his son, Kirk, of the Family Research Institute in Colorado in the United States - which claims its ''overriding mission is to generate empirical research on issues that threaten the traditional family, particularly homosexuality, AIDS, sexual social policy and drug abuse'' - concluded heterosexual men outlived gay men by 20 years.

The study has been criticised for its lack of academic rigour. It was partly based on lifespan estimates of men and women and gays and lesbians from obituaries in several US newspapers.

Dr Jensen yesterday stood firm on the claims he made on Monday night's program saying the facts needed to be established.

In an apparent bid to defuse the situation, Dr Jensen released a statement yesterday in which he said he welcomed the discussion that flowed from the TV program.

"Some doctors have told me that health outcomes are worse for gay and lesbian people, and gay activists themselves point to health problems. I mean this in the widest sense, not just HIV-AIDS but rates of cancer, alcoholism and other disease.

"I do not know whether there is sound evidence for this or not. But I think there should be a discussion as to whether this is so, as I said, 'in a compassionate and objective way'. My hope is that it is not true. If it is true, we need to work out how to respond as a community."

A Sydney researcher who runs the Gay Community Periodic Surveys, Martin Holt, said Dr Jensen's vague assertion that the lifespan of practising gays was significantly shorter than heterosexual men seemed to originate from discredited US research.

''The gist of the Camerons' argument was that lesbians and gay men must die younger than their heterosexual peers because they appeared to be under-represented in studies of older people,'' Dr Holt, from the University of NSW, said.

A Danish epidemiologist, Morten Frisch, said the research flaws were ''of such a grave nature that no decent peer-reviewed scientific journal should let it pass for publication''. Dr Frisch's 2009 study found there was an increase in the mortality rate of same-sex couples in the first few years of marriage but this was likely due to pre-existing illness.

''Although further study is needed, the claims of drastically increased overall mortality in gay men and lesbians appear unjustified,'' he concluded.

A public health researcher, Julie Mooney-Somers, of the University of Sydney, said a biennial survey on the health of lesbian and bisexual women had found some gay women had health issues - higher rates of smoking, mental illness and alcohol abuse - but there were no inherent health risks with being a practising lesbian. Such health issues were likely to be the result of higher rates of discrimination, she said.

While practising gay men were at risk of HIV infection, the disease was also a problem for heterosexual couples.

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