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South Bay Health Report: Obesity Top Concern

by Heather Cassell
Sunday Jan 26, 2014
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Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, left, talked with now-retired county Health Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib when the LGBT health survey started last fall
Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, left, talked with now-retired county Health Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib when the LGBT health survey started last fall  (Source:Jo-Lynn Otto)

Santa Clara County released the results of its first-ever countywide LGBT health survey that show chronic physical health issues and obesity top the list of concerns.

The 120-page report, "Status of LGBTQ Health: Santa Clara County, California 2013," was released January 10 and found that more than one-third of the county’s estimated 47,000 LGBT residents were diagnosed with chronic physical health issues and 1 in 4 are obese, according to the report. The county’s LGBT residents make up about 4 percent of the overall population.

Obesity was found to be highest among lesbians and older, white, and Latino individuals. Challenges to accessing services due to economic limitations were particularly unique among senior and transgender LGBTs, the report revealed.

Furthermore, the report shined a light on hidden issues within the county, such as social acceptance, anti-LGBT violence, and intimate partner violence.

"It’s the very first time that we have this type of information about the LGBT community," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager.

Yeager, who is gay and just stepped down as board president, also co-chaired the survey as a part of his health plan outlined in his State of the County address last January.

Yeager was joined by two other gay community leaders, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the former health officer of the county’s public health department, and Fredrick Ferrer, CEO of the Health Trust.

The Health Trust is the largest provider of non-medical services to low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS. The organization, which serves more than 900 clients, also provides other health-related programs to the general population in Santa Clara County.

Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s new health officer, agreed with Yeager, pointing out that not many cities have undertaken examining their LGBT populations’ health.

"It was hard. There wasn’t really a roadmap," said Cody, an ally who inherited overseeing the report after Fenstersheib, a 30-year veteran of the county’s public health department, retired in September 2013.

She was pleased by the results after the broad survey was quickly produced with a great amount of community support last fall.

The holistic approach to the community’s health was "most helpful and most unique, but like many of these first tries probably raises more questions than answers," Cody said.

Yeager plans on meeting with county department heads sometime in February to begin utilizing the information in the report to improve health and social services to the South Bay’s LGBT community, he said.

"It shows that the needs in our community are very diverse and very critical and ... government is not meeting all of those needs," said Yeager. "We need to make sure that happens."

Beyond the executive summary county authorities and experts said that they were surprised by the number of LGBT individuals who were homeless and the high rate of smoking, echoing other national and international reports.

Homelessness

"There are also more homeless LGBT people than compared to the rest of the population," said Cody.

Homeless LGBT adults made up 10 percent of the population for individuals over the age of 25 and 29 percent of queer youth were homeless, according to the report. Data was taken from Santa Clara County’s Homeless Census and Survey for 2013, which included sexual orientation as a question for the first time last year, and homeless LGBT respondents to the health survey.

"We need to fix the alarming high rate of LGBTQ people who are homeless," said Yeager, who wants to make sure that the outreach efforts and people who work with the homeless are culturally sensitive to LGBT homeless issues. "Making sure that the outreach that we do, when we go out to some of the encampments or work with homeless people, that there is an awareness that many of them will be gay and lesbian and have different needs."

The report, along with last year’s homeless census, highlighted "they don’t always feel like they are getting the correct services or that there may be discrimination taking place," said Yeager.

Smoking

The county’s health survey revealed that the number of South Bay’s LGBT smokers is three times higher than the number of heterosexual residents who light up, according to the report. Of greater concern is that the county’s LGBT smokers light up at a slightly higher rate than the national LGBT smoking population, according to research from www.smokefree.gov, the B.A.R. reported last week.

The report showed that the county’s largest population of smokers is in the prime of their life, age 25 to 54, and solidly middle class earning $40,000 to $74,999, according to the report.

"We need to redouble our efforts," said Yeager, a former smoker who quit 10 years ago. He’s working on proposing new legislation to limit tobacco companies’ access to promote products inside San Jose’s LGBT bars and nightclubs, including e-cigarettes, and enforcing recent ordinances that restrict smoking in outdoor spaces.

Getting to the Unknown

The online survey, conducted in the fall of 2013, was completed by more than 1,100 people. Additionally, officials had 17 small group discussions, two community conversations, and individual interviews with 27 key people. It was the first time that research looked beyond HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases that have dominated many studies in the LGBT community.

A separate health survey examining LGBTQ youth is currently in progress, officials said. Officials couldn’t provide information about when they anticipated the survey, which was extended into 2014, would be completed and the results would be available.

Researchers from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, working with Resource Development Associates, a research firm in Oakland, cast a wide net exploring various health issues, such as general health care, HIV/AIDS and sexual health, substance abuse, mental health and more. Additionally, researchers examined issues related to health, such as access to healthcare, social services, housing, community cohesion, economic status, domestic violence, social acceptance, and many other factors that directly or indirectly affect individuals’ health and well-being.

Yeager and Cody wouldn’t say how often the county would conduct targeted surveys of the LGBT community’s health. However, Yeager told the B.A.R. that the county is adding the sexual orientation and gender identity question to some other department surveys this year. He speculated that might be a better way of gathering information about the South Bay’s diverse and spread out LGBT community than a targeted survey of the queer community in the future.

"I just want to make sure that the LGBT community has the best services that they can [get]," said Yeager.

Clinic Reopens

In other Santa Clara health news, the Crane Center, a community health clinic that served the LGBT community until 2009, reopened a few months ago.

The clinic closed due to budget cuts during the economic downturn, said Cody.

The clinic is located in the TB Clinic/Refugee Health Assessment Program’s office, 976 Lenzen Avenue, Suite 1800, San Jose. It is open on Mondays from 1 to 7 p.m. To make an appointment, call (408) 792-3720.


To read the health survey, visit http://tinyurl.com/kt474f5

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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