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Women's Health Research Gains Ground, But Gaps Remain

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 29, 2010

Boosting research on women's health issues during the past two decades has both improved prevention and treatment and reduced deaths among women related to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and cervical cancer, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine. At the same time, it has yielded less—but still significant—progress in reducing the effects of depression, HIV/AIDS, and osteoporosis on women.

However, other health issues important to women have seen less progress over the years, including unintended pregnancy, autoimmune diseases, alcohol and drug addiction, lung cancer, and Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Fewer gains were found to have been made on chronic and debilitating conditions that caused significant higher levels of suffering but lower death rates, an IOM panel says in a consensus report, Women's Health Research: Progress, Pitfalls, and Promise.

In addition, while progress has been made in identifying behavioral determinants of women's health—such as smoking, diet, and physical activity—few studies actually have tested ways to modify these factors among women or examined the impact of social and community factors in specific groups of women, the report added.

"Unfortunately, less progress has been made on conditions that are not major killers but still profoundly affect women's quality of life," said committee chair Nancy E. Adler, PhD, professor of medical psychology and director of the Center for Health and Community, University of California, San Francisco. "These issues require similar attention and resources if we are to see better prevention and treatment in more areas."

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