New York, N.Y.-With the right diet and lifestyle, women should be able to lower their risk of breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. The frustrating reality is that most women don’t do the things that might prevent these and other diseases. Why not? A new policy report by The Commonwealth Fund Commission on Women’s Health suggests that while women must help themselves, they can’t do it alone. The report identifies five actions that health professionals, policy- makers and employers should take to help women stay healthy.
“We found that women often neglect their own needs because of the pressures of family, work, poverty, or all three,” says Joan Leiman, Ph.D., executive director of the Commission on Women’s Health and executive deputy vice president for Columbia University Health Sciences Division. “But we also found many things that others can do to help women. For example something as simple as a formal reminder from your physician or insurance company that says you are due for a mammogram can make a difference.” One study cited in the report found that when women who enrolled in an HMO received a letter recommending a mammogram, followed by a reminder postcard two months later, their likelihood of receiving a mammogram during the course of one year doubled. The report also charges health care providers with taking a more active role in counseling women about prevention.
Sixty percent of women in one study stated that although they may have received a checkup, they were not questioned about their eating habits, despite the connection between diet and illnesses such as heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer. The report, titled Prevention and Women’s Health – a Shared Responsibility, reviews the major health risks that women face over their lifetimes, the prevention opportunities that are available to reduce those risks, and the major barriers that impede women from taking advantage of those opportunities. The report offers five recommendations:
Health plans should cover the prevention services shown to be effective in protecting women’s health.
Education and outreach services need to reach more women with accurate information about women’s health risks and preventive measures that can be taken.
Health care professionals need to be trained to play a much more aggressive role in counseling women about health behaviors and preventive care.
Formal reminder systems need to be incorporated as routine procedures by health care plans and providers to alert women to the fact that a preventive test or examination is due. *Prevention requires a greatly expanded research agenda with a focus on women’s health.
“Regrettably, despite being one of the most widely researched, reported and talked about health topics, prevention is still not widely practiced by, nor made available to, significant numbers of American women,” says Ellen V. Futter, chair of the Commission on Women’s Health. “We very much hope this report will help change that.”
To receive a free copy of Prevention and Women’s Health – A Shared Responsibility, contact the Commonwealth Fund Commission on Women’s Health, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, 630 W. 168th St., P&S 2-463, New York, NY 10032; 212/305-8118; FAX 212/305-4063. The Commonwealth Fund, a New York City-based national foundation, supports research on health and social issues.