Stress, Time Are Women's Top Health Concerns

What do American women wish they could do to improve their health? It's not buying more health insurance or stocking up on healthy foods. According to a survey released Monday, it's reducing their stress and having more time.

According to the National Women's Health Resource Center, the survey shows that a woman's perception of why her health has changed is linked to lifestyle issues, such as changes in stress levels.
'It is very clear from this research that women, in particular women under 65, feel pressure from competing responsibilities of work and home life that restrict their time and energy," says the report.

The report also says that "for the most part women have a solid understanding of the issues that affect their health and understand the basic steps needed to improve their health, but not enough women are translating their knowledge into action."

Nearly four in 10 women in a national poll said that reducing their daily stress would be their first choice in improving their overall health. An equal number in the survey said having more time to take care of themselves would be their first choice.

Further down on the list were having more money to spend on health care and having access to better insurance.

But other data from the survey suggest that even women who think they're short on time may not be making the most of their routine visits to the doctor, researchers say.

Only 40 percent of the women told pollsters that they routinely bring a list of questions or concerns to their physicians' offices. Some doctors wish they would, since routine visits typically last no more than 8 to 10 minutes in crowded offices.

"The [time] problem is more compounded, we believe, by the fact that women are not preparing for their visits," says Amy Niles, president of the National Women's Health Resource Center, a nonprofit group that conducted the telephone survey among 1,005 women 18 years of age and older.

Despite reporting significant stress levels, half of the women said they took active steps to reduce their stress during the past year, and 15 percent said they visited a mental health counselor, she said.

Staying Informed

Survey results on how well informed women are about health issues appeared mixed. Eighty percent to 90 percent of women were aware of the need for annual screening tests like Pap smears and pelvic exams. Most also reported being aware of the need for frequent screening such as checking blood cholesterol levels and having mammograms.

Slightly more than half the women were aware that heart disease was a leading cause of death among women. But only one-third knew that older women should be screened with bone density tests to reveal the risk of fractures from osteoarthritis, the report showed.

More than 60 percent of white and black women said they were highly familiar with their family's disease history, a factor many experts consider critical to managing the risks of illness. Still, just half of Hispanic women and a third of Asian women claimed to be familiar with their family history.

At the same time, 60 percent of women told researchers that their own health was good or excellent, while 93 percent said the same for their kids.

"These numbers have to be way high," says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University, who noted that about one-quarter of the adult population smokes and that one-third is considered obese.

"Any significant smoker or obese person is not in excellent health," she says.

Minkin pointed to one survey result showing women were most likely to define good health as having a healthy family. It was rated above spiritual well-being, being physically active, and even above being free of chronic disease, the survey showed.

"Many times I need to push a patient ... by telling her that if she doesn't take care of herself, then she'll be really ill, and then she won't be able to take care of everybody else," she says.

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Women Talk health survey, National Women's Health Resource Center, May 4, 2005. Amy Niles, president, National Women's Health Resource Center. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Yale University.