According to "Women Talk," the first annual national women's health survey from the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC), being healthy to women means both physical and emotional wellness and having a healthy family and suggests that women place a greater priority on the health of their family than their own personal health.
Most women's greatest concern is losing a loved one, coming slightly ahead of being diagnosed with an incurable or chronic illness. Apparently women's propensity to put others ahead of themselves impacts their perceptions of their own health.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 59 percent of women rate their own physical health as 8 to 10; 66 percent rate their partner's health as 8 to 10; and 92 percent rate their children's health as 8 to 10.
But on the whole most women believe that time spent taking care of others has a positive impact on their health. A near majority, 48 percent, say that taking care of others has a positive impact on their physical health and 57 percent say that taking care of others has a positive impact on their mental health. The data also shows that women's perceptions of why their health has improved or declined over the past five years are strongly linked to lifestyle issues, such as changes in stress levels and exercise. In fact, women reported that having more time and reducing stress would most help improve their health.
Even though women reported that stress played a significant role in their health, only half say they reduced stress in their life in the past year. Only 15 percent visited a mental health counsellor during the last year and although 65 percent of women report exercising more, and 59 percent say they went on a diet, few women indicate they have met their diet or weight loss goals.
Amy Niles, president of the NWHRC says the data indicates a clear need for women and their health care professionals to do a better job of communicating about both physical and emotional wellness and how to achieve it.
American women say their own health decisions are limited by the demands on their time and money, particularly those under the age of 65, who feel pressure from competing responsibilities of work and home life.
Niles says that women need to become active partners in their health and wellness and focus on their own health.
It was also found that income played a critical role; the lower a woman's family income, the poorer her perception of the quality of her health. Lower-income women said that their health has deteriorated over the course of the last five years and they believed that they had less control over being healthy than do middle- or upper-income women.
One out of two lower-income women report that their health had deteriorated in the last five years compared to just 31 percent of middle- income and 26 percent of upper-income women.
Thirty nine percent of women earning under $20,000 a year rate their physical health poorly, compared to just 15 percent of middle-income and seven percent of upper-income women.
Ana E. Nunez MD, director of the Women's Health Education Program, Drexel University College of Medicine, in Philadelphia says the findings are important as income is strongly related to access to health care services, and many women's access is even further restricted by cultural and language barriers. According to the data, knowledge about preventative screenings and awareness of family medical history varies by race.
While 67 percent of Caucasian women and 60 percent of African-American women reported being very familiar with their family's medical history, only 51 percent of Latina and 33 percent of Asian women report that same familiarity.
African-American women reported they are most aware about a broad range of guidelines for preventative medical screenings, but Asian women are less aware of screenings, specifically those relating to their gynaecologic health.
Based on the survey findings, the NWHRC is launching an educational initiative called Take 10 to T.A.L.K. The campaign features a wallet-size card with four important questions that women should ask when visiting their health care professional.