Public Release: 

Sex matters in health promotion and disease prevention

Society for Women's Health Research

Washington, D.C.--Health promotion and disease prevention for women and men in the U.S. depend on a health care system and public cognizant of the affect sex differences have on health and disease. This was the message delivered in a recent article authored by Phyllis Greenberger, M.S.W., Society president and CEO, published in the Summer 2003 issue of Health Searchlight.

In the article, titled "Sex Matters in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention," Greenberger examines the differences between the definitions of sex and gender, how sex and gender affect disease prevention, and the need for more education and research on sex differences and disease.

Health Searchlight is the official newsletter of the Association of Academic Health Centers (AHC.)

"A clearer understanding of sex differences and their implications for health care will improve the health of both women and men, and may play a significant role in designing effective prevention programs based on sex," Greenberger stated.

"The challenge today is to increase awareness among both health care providers and the public of the fact that men and women simply differ when it comes to health and disease."

Greenberger referred to the 2001 Society-sponsored Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, Understanding the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?, which concluded that sex determines differential propensities for certain health conditions or diseases and different risk factors or treatments, while gender determines different exposures to certain risks, different treatment-seeking patterns or differential impacts of social and economical determinants of health.

"Scientists have long known the anatomical differences between women and men, but only within the past decade have they begun to uncover significant biological differences between the sexes. This reality was validated in the IOM report, which clearly distinguishes between sex and gender, while attempting to better understand sex differences and determinants at the biological level," Greenberger asserted.

As noted in the IOM report, Greenberger pointed out, the incidence of melanoma is higher in women, but the mortality rate is higher among men. Many researchers attribute the difference in incidence to behavioral factors such as occupational and recreational activities, clothing styles, and willingness to use sunscreen. Differences in mortality rates may be attributable to men's reluctance to seek medical treatment, leading to a later diagnosis and poorer prognosis.

"While certain prevention strategies, such as using sunscreen, will work for both women and men, gender specific messages, such as the need for protective clothing for women and regular screening for men, may be appropriate," Greenberger said.

Greenberger contended that it is critical that information be disseminated to patients and providers about sex differences in order to improve understanding of risk factors, and the prevention and treatment of disease. In order to learn more about how men and women differ when it comes to health, more research needs to be conducted, she said.

"While researchers are making strides in identifying how disease and their treatments affect the sexes differently, it is crucial that clinicians and health-promotion professionals translate these findings into tangible steps both men and women can take to improve their health," Greenberger said.


To obtain a copy of "Sex Matters in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention," please email

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women.

The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Visit the Society's Web site at for more information.

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