Sexual Orientation Disparities in Preventable Disease: A Fundamental Cause Perspective

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To determine whether fundamental cause theory (which posits that, in societal conditions of unequal power and resources, members of higher-status groups experience better health than members of lower-status groups because of their disproportionate access to health-protective factors) might be relevant in explaining health disparities related to sexual orientation.


We used 2001 to 2011 morbidity data from the Stockholm Public Health Cohort, a representative general population-based study in Sweden. A total of 66 604 (92.0%) individuals identified as heterosexual, 848 (1.2%) as homosexual, and 806 (1.1%) as bisexual. To test fundamental cause theory, we classified diseases in terms of preventability potential (low vs high).


There were no sexual orientation differences in morbidity from low-preventable diseases. By contrast, gay or bisexual men (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.48; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.13, 1.93) and lesbian or bisexual women (adjusted OR = 1.64; 95% CI = 1.28, 2.10) had a greater risk of high-preventable morbidity than heterosexual men and women, respectively. These differences were sustained in analyses adjusted for covariates.


Our findings support fundamental cause theory and suggest that unequal distribution of health-protective resources, including knowledge, prestige, power, and supportive social connections, might explain sexual orientation health disparities.

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