Government Relations Update

NIH continues implementation of IOM’s recommendations for LGBTI health research

NICHD and NIMHD will lead efforts to promote new research and training.

By Karen Studwell

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) continued its efforts to expand research on the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) populations with the release in January of the NIH LGBTI Research Coordinating Committee’s (RCC) Plans for Advancing LBGTI Health. The plans are the next step in implementing the recommendations from the 2011 NIH-commissioned study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. The IOM report acknowledged the limited opportunities for conducting NIH-sponsored research on LGBT health and recommended NIH pursue more research on LGBT health issues.

In response to the report, NIH Director Francis Collins established and charged the trans-NIH RCC to consider carefully the report's recommendations and to suggest strategies for how the institutes, centers and offices across the NIH can support research to increase the knowledge base for promoting the health of the LGBT and intersex communities. The RCC conducted a portfolio review of LGBTI research and found research being supported by many of the 27 NIH institutes and centers. It also identified gaps and scientific opportunities across areas of health in such areas as depression, suicide, obesity, cancer risk, long-term hormone use, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, and substance use including alcohol, smoking and other drugs. 

The plans outlined three initial activities the NIH is taking:

  1. Reconstituting the RCC under the leadership of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The new LGBTI RCC will serve as an established trans-NIH coordinating committee to facilitate and coordinate collaborations and other activities related to LGBTI health across the NIH as well as with other agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services.

  2. Providing support for an IOM workshop on “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Data Collection in Electronic Health Records.”

  3. Encouraging  NIH staff to participate in professional development on LGBTI health through activities such as attending meetings, conferences and symposia related to LGBTI health to educate themselves about LGBTI health issues as well as provide guidance to potential investigators on navigating the grant application process.

The current NIH Program Announcements on Research on the Health of LGBTI Populations calls for research that, “describes the biological, clinical, behavioral, and social processes that affect the health and development among LGBTI populations and among their families, and that leads to the development of effective supportive, preventive and treatment interventions and health service delivery methods that will enhance the health and development of these populations.” 

The IOM report recommended that NIH create a comprehensive research training program that would raise awareness of LGBT health issues among researchers. It further recommended that NIH encourage researchers to include sexual and gender minorities explicitly in their samples, using the NIH policy on the inclusion of women and racial and ethnic minorities in clinical research as a model. This would prompt researchers to consider these groups more frequently when applying for research grants examining a broad range of health outcomes. It is anticipated that the new RCC will examine how these recommendations can be implemented by NIH.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a long history of urging a more visible NIH commitment to LGBTI health research and inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity information in surveys and other data collection efforts. In his testimony before the IOM in 2010, Clinton Anderson, APA’s associate executive director for Public Interest, underscored the need for more explicit NIH recognition of the need for additional research on ”the nature and development of gender identity and sexual orientation; about their interactions with other biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors; and, especially, their interactions with crucial factors associated with health disparities, such as race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.”

APA staff will continue to monitor the implementation and support for LGBTI health research at NIH and across the federal government.

Karen Studwell, JD is senior legislative and federal affairs officer within the APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office.
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