March is Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s strengths, accomplishments and contributions to history, culture and society. When it comes to everyday life, women are largely responsible for their own health and the health care and well-being of their families. This month, we can celebrate the women in our lives by supporting their unique physical and mental health needs.
Historically, women’s health has been focused almost solely on gynecological and reproductive health. Furthermore, medical studies have historically excluded women participants of childbearing age. This has led to an overall lack of an adequate understanding of women’s health. Many topics uniquely impacting women’s health and health care have been overlooked and under-researched. For example, compared to men, women are more likely to:
become disabled during their lifetime to struggle with weight concerns develop heart failure or die within five years of having their first heart attack experience anxiety or depression face intimate partner violence suffer from a stroke Women face increasing risk of health-related concerns every year. According to an American Psychological Association study, women are dealing with increasing stress. More women compared to men are reporting increased stress over the past five years. Recently, women have been closing the gender gap in alcohol consumption, binge drinking and alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, this appears to be translating into a greater risk of liver disease, alcohol-induced cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer in women.
There are some unique differences in nutrition needs between men and women. Generally, women need fewer calories than men, but a greater need of certain micronutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. This means that in order to optimize their nutrition and manage a healthy weight, women can benefit from eating nutrient-dense foods and steering away from high-calorie foods that are lacking in essential nutrients.
Women are more likely than men to experience problems accessing health care. There has been a lack of funding for research on diseases that affect women. Women are more likely to be underdiagnosed and undertreated compared to men. There is a sex and gender gap in medical research and healthcare access that poses real-life disadvantages for women patients.
Here are some ways that we can help our friends, mothers, grandmothers, daughters and ourselves lead healthier, longer lives:
Schedule an annual well-woman exam and other routine preventive health care services. Oftentimes, a lack of childcare and busy work schedules are the greatest barriers women face when seeking healthcare. Quit smoking and assess alcohol consumption. Healthy habits and coping skills that support mental health are key to stress management. Engage in a regular physical activity routine. Regular physical activity can help support a healthy mind and body. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. Fresh and frozen produce is low in calories and rich in important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Help break down barriers to seeking health care. Women are more likely to delay self-care due to their work and childcare roles. Listen to yourself and your body. Nobody knows you better than yourself. If something doesn’t seem right, reach out to your doctor and advocate for yourself. LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.
LeeAnn Weintraub | Nutrition columnist LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. Email RD@halfacup.com.