New report outlines progress, pitfalls
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Doctors with the Institute of Medicine say some progress has been made in addressing women’s health issues, but that barriers such as socio-economic and cultural influences still limit the potential reach and impact of research developments, especially among disadvantaged women.
The Sept. 23 report, released under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, says concerted research efforts have reduced deaths among women due to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and yielded some progress in reducing the effects of depression, HIV/AIDS, and osteoporosis on women.
But there’s less progress in other areas important to women, including unintended pregnancy, autoimmune diseases, alcohol and drug addiction, lung cancer, and dementia.
Overall, fewer gains have been made on chronic and debilitating conditions that cause significant suffering but have lower death rates, pointing to the need for researchers to give quality of life similar consideration as mortality for research attention.
“There is good news and bad news on the state of women’s health research,” said committee chair Nancy E. Adler, professor of medical psychology and director of the Center for Health and Community, University of California, San Francisco. “Significant boosts in research on women’s health issues have yielded measurable progress in reducing the toll of several serious disorders. Unfortunately, less progress has been made on conditions that are not major killers but still profoundly affect women’s quality of life.”
Historically, researchers recruited women to clinical studies less often than men in part because of ethical concerns about potential fetal exposure to experimental substances; the flux of hormones in women’s bodies, which could complicate studies; and the assumption that results of studies on men could be extrapolated to women.
However, trial results were not necessarily applicable or consistently applied to women, as demonstrated by the unequal use of stents, beta blockers, and cholesterol-lowering drugs to treat heart disease in women. Moreover, the symptoms and courses of diseases in males do not always correspond to what happens in females.
“These issues require similar attention and resources if we are to see better prevention and treatment in more areas,” Adler said. “And across all areas, researchers need to take into account the effects of both biologically determined sex differences and socially determined gender differences as a routine part of conducting research.”
Inadequate research focus on women’s health issues was first comprehensively documented in 1985, which led to a transformation in government and public support of women’s health research and in related policies and regulations.
Although the dramatic increase in women’s health research has generated an abundance of new information of interest to women, the course of scientific study sometimes yields conflicting findings and opposing recommendations that can cause confusion among the public.
The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appoint a task force to develop strategies to communicate and market health messages about research results to women. The task force should include experts on mass media and marketing.
The report is available at http://www.nap.edu/.