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Women, doctors largely in sync on health concerns

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Australian women are most worried about gaining weight, but their doctors think they are more concerned about their mental health, a new study has found.

Overall, however, health professionals are pretty much in touch with their female patients, the Women’s Health Survey found.

The Jean Hailes group surveyed 3035 women, average age 48, and 20 health practitioners between February and May 2016. The health practitioners included GPs, nurses, naturopaths, and community and allied health services.

Overall, the women rated their health as good or very good.

On average, they visited their doctor three to five times a year, and felt confident asking their doctor questions and discussing health issues and concerns.

They undertook regular health checks, including pap smears, breast screening, and bowel screening, but not sexual health screening for STIs.

The top five health concerns nominated by the women participants were:

  • Weight management, and specifically weight gain (23 per cent)
  • Cancer, including breast, ovarian, and skin cancer (17 per cent)
  • Mental and emotional health, particularly anxiety and depression (15 per cent)
  • Menopause (9 per cent), and
  • Chronic pain (8 per cent).

Asked to nominate what most concerned their female patients, the health practitioners listed:

  • Mental and emotional health (28 per cent)
  • Menopause (27 per cent)
  • Weight (25 per cent)
  • Breast cancer (17 per cent), and
  • Fertility (16 per cent).

Nearly half of all women surveyed said they wanted more information on healthy eating and nutrition, anxiety and worry, and weight management.

Interestingly, four in five of the health professionals said their patients needed more information on vulval irritation and painful sex, yet very few women surveyed reported needing more information on these topics.

The women were most likely to get their health information from health professionals, followed by internet searches. They rated information from commercial organisations and social media as the least trustworthy.

More than 70 per cent of women rated their health as good or very good, and 93 per cent agreed with the statement that “good health is one of the most important things in my life”.

The survey is conducted each year to identify gaps in health information, understand future health needs, and identify trends in women’s health behaviours.

Maria Hawthorne