What is Women’s Health? It’s More Than You Think – Women’s eNews

When you hear womenshealth, your mind is likely drawn to maternal, sexual and reproductivehealth. Butwomenshealthis shaped by so much more. Its shaped by the environment they live in, the food they eat and the air they breathe. In short:womenshealthis publichealth.

A frequently overlooked publichealththreat is noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs.NCDSsuch as heart disease, cancer and diabetesare responsible fortwo in every three deathsamong women each year, and present the greatest threat to theirhealthand well-being. Women and girls often also shoulder the indirect burden of NCDs as caregivers of sick family members, limiting their ability to earn or learn.

At the same time,NCDs and the behavioral and environmental factors that cause themincluding tobacco, alcohol, poor diet and air pollutionare inextricably linked to maternal, sexual and reproductivehealth. For example, low-calcium diets, obesity, diabetes and hypertension increase the risk of developing pre-eclampsia and eclampsiathe second leading cause of maternal mortality.

To truly improvewomenshealthand well-being, we must hold governments accountable for addressing NCDs and their risk factors. Here are some of the key issues.

Cutting Tobacco.Every year,2 million women die from tobacco use.While smoking rates among men are falling,those among women are rising.This should come as no surprise, given that the tobacco industry views women as an opportunity for market growth and targets them through advertisements thatfalsely link tobacco use to concepts of prestige, beauty and glamourincluding as a method for weight control. Women account for abouttwo-thirds of deaths from secondhand smoke, often because they lack the power to negotiate for smoke-free spaces, at work and even in their own homes.

Curbing tobacco use is an urgentwomenshealthissue, and one with proven solutions. Governments have an arsenal of policy levers at their disposal to reduce use and improvehealth, including tax increases on tobacco products, restrictions on tobacco marketing and bans on smoking in public places.

Curbing air pollution. Poor air quality claims an estimated6.7 million liveseach year, including2.3 million liveslost due to household air pollution. Without access to clean fuels and technology for cooking, millions of households rely on traditional stoves and polluting fuels, and the smoke poses enormous risks tohealthfor women,who are most often responsible for cooking,and their families.

Emerging research also emphasizes how poor air quality hasadverse effects on pregnancy and child development.In a recent study, researchers found thatpoor air quality contributes to an estimated350,000 pregnancy lossesin South Asia each year. Researchers at my organization, Vital Strategies, recently published a comprehensive review of global evidence showing that that both ambient and household air pollutioncan increase the risk of prenatal and postnatal stunting.

The most impactful clean air solutions to promotewomenshealthwill involve catalyzing government action to address leading sources of exposure for women, which includes efforts to promote clean household energy use.

Improving Food Systems.We are witnessing a global nutrition transition where hunger and obesity oftencoexist,traditional diets have been displaced, and people are increasingly pushed toward cheap ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks that saturate the market. More often than not, the face of malnutrition is female. Women and girls make up60% of the worldsfood insecure and hungry people, and the majority of the worlds overweight and obese peoplein 2016,15% of women were obese compared to 11% of men. Obesity in turn puts people at higher risk for diseases, including cardiovascular diseasesthe worlds leading killer. Risks are compounded during pregnancy; obesity is associated with almostall pregnancy-related complications including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.

There are tried and true steps that governments can take to address rising rates of obesity and accompanying levels of disease.Eliminatingtrans fatfrom the food supplyis critical, as is helping people make informed andhealthier choices byintroducing front-of-package labelsthat warn shopperswho are often womenagainst items high in salt, sugar and fat.

Counting Every Person.Throughout our lives, civil registration and vital statistics(CRVS)systems collect data on vital events, including births, deaths, marriages and divorces.On a national level, CRVS systems are crucial to helping governments identify and respond to the diseases thattake the highest toll ona population.Atan individual level, being counted means so much more.These legal documents can help women and girls claim the rights to which they are entitled.For example, where child marriage is still prevalent,birth certificates provide evidence of a girls age and can offer protection from early marriage and allow them tocompletetheir education.And marriage certificates are crucial to defendingwomensrights to child custody, property and inheritance.

But gender inequality often renders womenand their childreninvisible. Globally, some40% of deathsare unregistered orlisted without a clear cause, while a quarter of the births ofchildren under 5remain unregistered.Women are muchless likely than mento have their deaths registered, particularly because they are less likely to leave behind financial or material inheritance. In addition, stigma toward non-married womenhas been foundto impede birth registration.

Investing in strengthening CRVS systems will have a significant effect on gender equality, particularly if the common barriers to registration that women faceincluding cost and distanceare identified and removed.

When we hear womenshealth, we should picture everything from the food labels that warn us about the hidden, unhealthy ingredients in packaged food to the policies that ban smoking in public spaces to the birth certificates that grant girls access to education.Forhealthier women, wemustmobilize behind this moreholisticconcept ofwomenshealthand address these rising challenges.

About the Author: ChristinaChangis the Executive Vice President and Deputy CEO of Vital Strategies, a global publichealthorganization, working to address the inequities and challenges that exist in the globalhealthlandscape.Christinahas significant experience advocating and expanding access tohealthcare for women. Previously as Chief External Officer at Planned Parenthood New York,Christinaoversaw the organizations policy, and community organizing efforts to protect the sexual and reproductive services and information of all women. She also directed the advocacy and electoral activities of PPNYCs Action Fund and PPNYC Votes PAC.

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What is Women's Health? It's More Than You Think - Women's eNews

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