For the first time, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations will be included in the National Health Interview Survey -- one of the key sources used to gauge the health of Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday morning that it will add questions on sexual orientation to the survey by 2013 and begin efforts to collect data on gender identity.
In a statement, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hailed the move as essential to helping policymakers and researchers identify health issues among LGBT populations, for which there is notoriously little data.
"Today we are taking critical steps toward ensuring the useful national data on minority groups, including, for the first time, LGBT populations," Sebelius said. "The data we will eventually collect in these efforts will serve as powerful tools and help us in our fight to end health disparities."
Key players in LGBT health issues have hailed the announcement, among them, UCLA's Williams Institute On Sexual Orientation and Gender and Identity Law, which released a statement praising the move.
"Today's announcement solidifies the commitment ... to provide more and better data about the health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans," Williams Distinguished Scholar Dr. Gary Gates said. He added that the need for more data is "acute."
The National Health Interview Survey has been conducted since 1957 and has been updated every 10 to 15 years. Data collection, however, is continuous through each year.
The Centers for Disease Control, which conducts the survey, says it is the "principal source" of information about the health of Americans.
The new draft announced Wednesday also calls for the collection of more data on race and ethnicity, aimed at better understanding health care and outcomes among Asian, Hispanic and Pacific Islander populations.
"To fully understand and meet the needs of our communities," director of HHS Office Of Minority Health, Dr. Garth Graham, said in a statement, "we must first thoroughly understand who we are serving."