Closing the Gender Health Gap

Historically, it is well recognized that there has been a lack of research on women’s health. So much so, that in 1985, the Public Health Service Task Force on Women’s Health Issues concluded: “the historical lack of research focus on women’s health concerns has compromised the quality of health information available to women, as well as the health care they receive.” 

From the end of World War II until the 1980’s, medical research was conducted almost exclusively on men. Initially, women of childbearing age were excluded from studies to protect a fetus from being a victim of medical research. And while the intentions were good, some scientists saw a benefit to keeping women out of the research. 

Physiologically, men’s bodies are rather homogeneous. Compared to women, men’s hormones are less prone to fluctuation, making research easier, cheaper, and less likely to be skewed. 

As a result, modern medicine treated women as “small men,” translating drug dosages and other studies from men to women on the overly simplistic basis of a height and weight ratio.

In the mid-80’s, when the Public Health Service Task Force on Women’s Health Issues drew their conclusions around inequality surrounding medical studies, researchers finally started to consider the unique needs of the female patient — beyond her uterus and ovaries. Through subsequent analysis, the scientific and medical community has learned that men and women experience pain, metabolize medications, and present symptoms in fundamentally different ways. However, while scientists and healthcare professionals are starting to more deeply explore the health needs of women, there is still much more work to do. 

Women are disproportionately affected by autoimmune conditions and other health concerns that are on the rise, especially ones surrounding pregnancy and delivery. According to recent Harvard research, American women today are 50% more likely to die in childbirth. And, as if that’s not alarming enough, the risk is consistently three to four times higher for Black women than White women, irrespective of income or education. This is exactly why elevating the need for better research, and supporting those who are doing the work to make this a reality is so important. 

Julie Sawaya and Ryan Woodbury are the founders of Needed, a thoughtful nutrition company that makes products that work in the body as nature intends — with nutrients selected and paired together exactly as they are found. It is their goal to create a more thoughtful conversation about the current nourishment paradigm and how we arrived here from a nature-first, cultural, and scientific perspective. As female founders and CEOs they are invested in bettering women’s health research and are committed to advocating for women’s equality. 

Photo credit: Greta Rybus.

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