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Correcting the gender health gap.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has good reason to place women's health high on its research agenda. The Agency says its $625 million Women's Health Initiative Effort expresses an awareness that "health problems specific to women are worsening and that we currently do not have all the knowledge necessary to reverse this trend."

As women make career and lifestyle choices, what facts should they know about health disparities?

"Overall, women have worse health than men," states a summary report released by NIH's newly established Office of Research on Women's Health. ORWH goes on to say "throughout their lives, as shown by statistics, the quality of life for women lags behind that for men: women have more acute symptoms, chronic conditions, and short- and long-term disabilities arising from health problems."

"Women's activities are limited by health problems approximately 25 percent more days each year than are men's activities," according to ORWH.

What is more, the statistics on gender disparities are true even when reproductive problems are eliminated from the calculations, according to the ORWH summary report entitled "Opportunities for Research on Women's Health." And the gender gap in health becomes still worse as women age.

Since women as a group survive four to 10 years longer than men, many will live long enough to develop the devastating illnesses that are unique to the very old.

"Already, women requiring care in nursing homes or personal care facilities outnumber men three to one (939,900 women and 334,400 men in 1985)," ORWH said. "In 1990, of the seven million women over age 75, nearly two million were either unable or limited in their ability to carry on major activities."

ORWH also cites specific health problems that are more prevalent in women than in men. These are:

Cardiovascular Disease. Nearly 90,000 women die of stroke each year. Stroke accounts for a higher percentage of deaths among women than men in all stages of life. For instance, half of all women, but only 31 percent of men, who have heart attacks die within a year.

Mental Disorders. The rate of affective disorders is almost twice that for women, about 7 percent compared with men. In elderly women, the prevalence of depression is 3.64 percent versus 1 percent in men.

Alzheimer's Disease. Occurrence is higher among women than men, and it increases with age -- dramatically so after age 85.

Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis affects more than 24 million Americans, primarily women. And rates of osteoporosis for women increase dramatically with age. The rate of osteoporosis for women in the 45 to 49 age group is 17.9 percent compared to 89 percent for women 75 and older.

Hip fractures are the most serious consequences of osteoporosis. Each year, 250,000 people are hospitalized with hip fractures and are temporarily disabled. One half of them will never walk independently again.

Furthermore, certain health problems are unique to women or affect women differently than they do men. The ORWH report cites these examples:

Cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death among American women. In 1991, 51,000 women died from lung cancer and 45,000 women died from breast cancer.

"Lung cancer is almost entirely due to cigarette smoking," the government report said. "Today, more young women become smokers than young men."

Sexually transmitted disease. Each year, six million women in the United States, half of whom are teenagers, acquire a sexually transmitted disease, the government agency declared, and the problem is getting worse.

"Women are the fastest growing population with AIDS; IV [intravenous] drug abuse and heterosexual contact are the primary modes of transmission," according to ORWH.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Vegetus Publications
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Title Annotation:Women's Health Initiative Effort
Author:Roosevelt, Edith Kermit
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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