A new study has found that women’s health research remains disproportionately focused on the reproductive years—particularly on pregnancy—with few articles on the major causes of illness and death in women.
Despite growing awareness of differences in how women experience medical conditions and the impact this can have on diagnosis and treatment, this research gap has widened over the last ten years, researchers found.
Lead author Laura Hallam from The George Institute for Global Health said that the focus on so-called “bikini medicine” stemmed from the mistaken belief that women’s health only differs from men’s in the parts of the body that a bikini would cover.
“Historically, women’s health research has focused on reproductive health. However, noncommunicable diseases are now the leading cause of death and disability for women in most countries, particularly low- and middle-income countries,” she said.
“Sex and gender bias in research and health care can lead to poorer health outcomes for women, particularly in conditions not recognized as women’s health issues.”
George Institute researchers analyzed the main health content of articles published in six women’s health journals and five leading general medical journals in 2010 and 2020, categorizing the main medical area topics and the life stage under study. They then compared these findings with the leading causes of disease in women according to the well-established Global Burden of Disease study.
They found that, in 2010, just over one third (36 percent) of the women’s health content in both sets of journals was focused on reproductive health, and by 2020 this had increased to just under half (49 and 47 percent for each journal type respectively).
“When we categorized the articles according to a woman’s life stage, we found that most were on pregnancy or the reproductive years, with very few articles on menopause,” Hallam said. “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.”
Hallam, et al. “Does Journal Content in the Field of Women’s Health Represent Women’s Burden of Disease? A Review of Publications in 2010 and 2020.” Journal of Women’s Health, 2022.