Current research focuses on women’s reproductive health despite other disease burdens

Lena Weib

April 07, 2022

3 min read


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Studies on women’s health have primarily investigated reproductive health topics, a trend that increased between 2010 and 2020, researchers said.

Their findings were from a quantitative analysis published in the Journal of Women’s Health.





The researchers reviewed 1,483 studies published in women’s health journals and general medicine journals. They categorized each by topic — including reproductive health, noncommunicable disease, communicable disease, injury and other — and stage of life ranging from adolescence to postmenopausal.

Their analysis revealed that 44% of studies examined reproductive health, and most focused on pregnancy and the reproductive years.

“While women’s life expectancies are generally longer than men’s, women have fewer healthier years and high rates of disability in older age, so it’s important to look at health and well-being across the life span and study diseases that are more common in old age, that might impact women more,” Laura Hallam, BMedChem(Hons), a PhD candidate and research assistant at The George Institute for Global Health at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, said in a press release.

Healio spoke with Hallam to learn more about trends in the current literature on women’s health and the importance of paying attention to medical topics that are not just limited to reproduction.

Healio: What prompted this study?

Hallam: Conducting research in women’s health, you can see that many people still equate women’s health with reproductive health. At The George Institute, we focus on a broader view of women’s health. We are interested in health across the whole life span of women and the ways that sex and gender influence health and disease, which allows for women’s experiences of non-sex-specific conditions to be understood. We were curious to see if the wider field of women’s health is also taking this broader approach, or if reproductive health still dominates. We decided to examine this by looking at the breadth of topics covered in published research on women’s health to take a snapshot of the field in order to identify gaps.

Healio: What specific gaps in research did you identify?

Hallam: We identified many leading causes of death and disability in women that are not being well addressed in women’s health articles, such as CVD, stroke, chronic lung diseases and infectious diseases, including COVID-19. We also found that there was very little research specifically focusing on older women, which is a huge gap. In particular, despite a large proportion of articles on reproductive health, there was very little research focused on menopausal women.

Healio: Were any of your findings surprising?

Hallam: While we did expect that a large proportion of the women’s health articles would be on reproductive health topics, we were surprised to see that this had increased substantially from 2010 to 2020, as we were expecting the opposite trend. With the burden of disease in women shifting to be dominated by noncommunicable disease, and increased conversation in the last decade about the importance of understanding the influence of sex- and gender-related factors on health and disease, we expected to see an increase in these topics being covered in women’s health articles rather than an increase in reproductive health coverage.

Healio: What should researchers study to close gaps in the current literature?

Hallam: Many researchers are studying the noncommunicable and communicable diseases that are the leading causes of death and disability in women. If they focus on women or consider the impact of sex- and gender-related factors on their work and provide sex- and gender-disaggregated data, then this will help fill the gap in understanding women’s specific experiences of these serious diseases. Additionally, women’s health journals and general medical journals need to make sure that they publish these types of studies alongside the important research on reproductive health.

Healio: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Hallam: It is important to acknowledge that there are wider factors that influence what research is conducted and published. National and international policies and initiatives, women’s health agendas and funding decisions all have an impact on where research funding is directed, which dictates what researchers can study and what journals can publish. The whole research sector needs to work together to ensure that the true breadth of issues that impact women’s health are being studied and reported.

References:

  • Hallam L, et al. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2022;doi:10.1089/jwh.2021.0425.
  • Time to shift research focus from ‘bikini medicine’ to what is really ailing women. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/948110. Published March 29, 2022. Accessed March 29, 2022.

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