The Department of Health and Human Services plans to include health data on sexual orientation and gender identity-related issues in the National Health Interview Survey, HHS announced Wednesday.

The collection of health data on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations was announced along with new draft standards for the monitoring of health data by race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, and disability status.

Both efforts are meant to help researchers, policy makers, health providers and advocates better address health disparities, the agency said.

“Today we are taking critical steps toward ensuring the collection of useful national data on minority groups, including for the first time, LGBT populations,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “The data we will eventually collect in these efforts will serve as powerful tools and help us in our fight to end health disparities.”

Scholars and gay activists welcomed the news, saying the need for more data in the LGBT community is acute.

Columbia University professor Ilan H. Meyer said, “Our nation’s aim to reduce health disparities related to sexual orientation, as stated in Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020, has been hampered by lack of broad population-based quality data. Accurate and reliable data about the health of the LGBT population are essential for forming public health policies, setting research priorities, and designing effective interventions.”

Meyers is also a Williams scholar at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy.

Judith Bradford, co-chair of the Boston-based Fenway Institute and director of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health, applauded the news as well.

“Now we need to work with HHS to develop gender identity measures so that entire LGBT community is represented in this important federal health survey,”she added.

HHS said it will include questions on sexual orientation in the national data collection efforts by 2013.

“The first step is to make sure we are asking the right questions,” Sebelius said. “Sound data collection takes careful planning to ensure that accurate and actionable data is being recorded.”

The proposed standards for data on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status are meant to aid federal agencies better refine their population health surveys in ways that help researchers better understand health disparities.

“These new data standards, once finalized, will help us target our research and tailor stronger solutions for underserved and minority communities,” added HHS Director of the Office of Minority Health, Dr. Garth Graham.