News Release

Fifty years of progress in women's health

Chronicling major points of progress in women's health

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Brigham and Women's Hospital

WHO: JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, Physician and Epidemiologist, Division of Preventive Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital; co-author of a new Perspective piece published in The New England Journal of Medicine (pdf attached)

WHAT: Less than 50 years ago, a U.S. Supreme Court decision paved the way for women's use of contraception irrespective of marital status, and a year later, in 1973, the Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women have a right to legalized abortion. In recent decades, clinical researchers and policymakers alike have made important strides in promoting women's health and well-being, both within and beyond the field of reproduction. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the National Academy of Medicine, Manson and co-author Cynthia Stuenkel, MD, of the University of California San Diego's School of Medicine, wrote a Perspective piece for The New England Journal of Medicine chronicling major points of progress in women's health since the 1970s and expectations for the future.

"Women's health extends far beyond reproductive health. It is now recognized to encompass physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well," writes Manson and Stuenkel. "The past half-century has been marked by important advances in reproductive health, improvement in women's well-being throughout the life course, and reductions in cardiovascular and cancer mortality in women."

In a detailed pair of timelines, the authors chart scientific advances related to women's health alongside key policy milestones that have made this progress possible. The authors also describe clinical research that has improved physicians' understanding of certain conditions that disproportionately affect women, including autoimmune disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's disease. Sex-specific risk factors for coronary heart disease, once thought to affect only older women, have expanded standards for cardiovascular care for women of all ages, and care for diseases like breast and cervical cancer has also dramatically improved.

The authors emphasize the importance of recognizing and studying intersectional health disparities, highlighting race-based health disparities, such as maternal mortality rates that are three times higher among Black women than white women, and the need for progress in transgender health.

"The commitment to incorporating sex and gender into medical investigations and patient care considerations will transform the research and clinical agendas for the foreseeable future," the authors write. "Championing the role of science as the route to better health remains essential to spurring new discoveries to advance women's health."


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