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Australian women’s health needs awareness

A recent study published in PLOS ONE revealed the long-term health picture of Australian women to be deeply concerning.

About 80 per cent of women are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, 70 per cent are not getting enough weekly physical activity and more than half are overweight.

The ongoing Women’s Healthy Ageing Project, undertaken at the University of Melbourne, obtained data on more than 20,000 women aged between 18 and 98 from around Australia for the published study.

Professor Cassandra Szoeke, the Director of the Women’s Healthy Ageing Project, said there was a lack of awareness about women’s health, even among women themselves.

“The recent Alzheimer’s Association report showed that of all cases of dementia, two thirds are women,” Prof Szoeke said.

“And last year the Hidden Hearts report showed heart disease was more common in women than men. Yet when asked, women most feared getting breast cancer despite the fact they had twice the lifetime chance of getting dementia – a terminal disease.”

The top leading cause of death in women is heart disease, followed by dementia.  According to the Australian Heart Foundation, heart disease claims 24 female lives every day, more than three times as many women as breast cancer. Fifty Australian women have a heart attack each day.

The Heart Foundation believes that awareness is central to address the heart disease in Australian women. This can start with GPs.

They found in their own research that only 27 per cent of women have spoken to a GP about heart disease and are considerably less likely than men to have a heart attack check.

Other recent research also highlights the importance of raising awareness to women’s long term health.

University of Queensland’s research published in the journal of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, showed that years of gradual weight gain more than doubles the risk of blood pressure disorders in pregnancy.

The research suggests a gradual weight gain during a woman’s reproductive years can more than double her risk of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy.

UQ Researcher Akilew Adane said this builds on earlier evidence that parents and clinicians should think of pre-pregnancy health across the entire reproductive stage of women’s lives – “not just the year before starting a family”.

“High blood pressure in pregnancy can progress to pre-eclampsia, a potentially fatal complication and one of the leading causes of pre-term birth and low birth weight due to intra-uterine growth restriction,” Mr Adane said.

The research also showed that gradual weight change does have long-term consequences. Previously little was known about the relationship between hypertensive disorders and weight changes in the years leading up to pregnancy.

“We found that women who were obese just prior to pregnancy tripled their risk of developing hypertensive disorders (HDP) compared to women in the healthy BMI category,” Mr Adane said.

“In the years leading up to pregnancy, women with moderate to high annual weight gains of more than 2.5 per cent of their body weight had a 2.3 times greater risk of developing HDP than those whose weight remained stable.

The good news is that women who lost more than 1.5 per cent of body weight between the ages of 20 to 24 years were 46 per cent less likely to develop hypertensive disorders.

Meredith Horne

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