If more women knew that taking a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, limiting that strawberry-banana sundae to Saturday evenings and saying no to all those overtime hours could increase their lifespans by 8.3 years and disease-free days by 15.6 years, would they do it?

Believe it or not, longevity and health can be as simple as that — exercising daily, eating in moderation and lowering stress levels.

According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, “Behavioral and lifestyle factors are the primary factors associated with the leading causes of morbidity and mortality for Ohio women.”

One would think that more and more women are becoming aware of the basic links between health, diet and exercise. Scan any magazine stand and you’ll see these topics on most every cover targeting women readers. Yet health data show that 49 percent of Ohio women are still obese, and 25 percent still smoke. (In Kentucky, the obesity rate for women is 55 percent, and 28 percent of women smoke.)

National and international studies suggest that most women have a lot to learn about the gender gap in health: Not only how women’s differ from men’s, but the differences in how women are diagnosed and treated.

According to numerous experts, such as Dr. Leslie Cho of the Women’s Cardiovascular Center at the Cleveland Clinic,:

 Women are more likely then men to minimize symptoms of heart disease, and therefore often do not seek help as soon as they should

 Women tend to get less attention and treatment — from advanced diagnostic tests such as angiography to medications such as statins — than men with the same risk factors or symptoms

 Women with hypertension are at greater risk of stroke than men with the same condition

 A woman with diabetes is more likely to have a heart attack than a man with diabetes

Aside from reading, searching the internet and talking with their doctors, how can Greater Cincinnati women get more health information and help others learn more?

Since 1996, thousands of women have gathered here for the annual Speaking of Women’s Health conference. Founded by Dianne Dunkelman as a one-day event, Speaking of Women’s Health is now a national non-profit foundation hosting more than 40 conferences and events in cities nationwide. Its mission is “Saving Lives Through Educating” women, usingconferences, television programming, newsletters, books and community outreach.

Nabbing tickets to the four-day conference here is harder than getting seats to a popular musical at the Aronoff Center.

The conference features breakout sessions with local and national experts on women’s health topics ranging from weight control to hormone replacement therapy, along with health screenings, informational stands and other activities — and one of the most coveted convention gift bags in town. In 2001, SPW launched Universal Sisters, a program devoted to the unique health issues affecting women of color, and to educate them about preventative care.



SORTING OUT THE INFORMATION

Another educational event gaining strength locally is Women’s Health Experience, which is holding its fifth annual conference and exposition on Oct. 11 at the Duke Energy Center. It’s organized by The Foundation for Female Health Awareness, a non-profit organization dedicated to “improving women’s health by supporting unbiased medical research and educating women from adolescence to menopause and beyond about their health,” and to educating women “on all aspects of gender-specific medicine.”

The all-day women’s symposium features talks by local health experts, exhibits, breakfast, a gala luncheon, free health screenings and more. Dr. Barbara Levy, a nationally know gynecologist, is this year’s keynote speaker.

The foundation was co-founded by Dr. Mickey Karram, a urogynecologist and female pelvic surgeon, and his wife, Mona, who serves as foundation president and event organizer. The organization recently awarded a $500,000 grant to the Cleveland Clinic to conduct surgical treatment options for incontinence — another one of those health topics that many women don’t fully understand, or are reluctant to talk about.

The Karrams’ foundation also publishes a magazine called Women’s Health Today and offers outreach programs that focus on cancer screening and prevention.

“There is a tremendous amount of information out there,” Dr. Karram observes. “It is very difficult to weed through it to find what’s true and effective. We go to great lengths, both in our event and in our publications, to provide the latest peer reviews and accurate information.”

Information on women’s health is rapidly changing as the medical research community realizes that past studies based primarily on men are not automatically transferable to women, Dr. Karram notes. Research now shows that due to hormonal and anatomical differences, women need gender-specific diagnosis and treatment of various diseases and chronic disorders.

“In the last 10 years there have been significant advances in gender-specific treatments,” he explains.



LOCAL GROUPS EXPAND AWARENESS

In Cincinnati, there are several organizations focused on women’s health, education and awareness. Go Red For Women, sponsored by the American Heart Association, has a near-term goal of “nothing less than a 25 percent reduction in coronary heart disease and stroke risk by the year 2010.”

With heart disease killing one woman per minute, Lori Fovel, Go Red for Women’s communications director, takes her job of bringing people to heart-health awareness very seriously.

“We have a web site (where) women can go to assess their risk factors,” she notes. “Most people who visit the web site will take some kind of positive action to make a lifestyle change,” she adds, noting that such changes can positively affect a prognosis.

“Women can feel overwhelmed. We want to enforce the fact that you can do one positive thing each day — that it can really add up and make a difference,” she says.

Go Red for Women hosts numerous events including the February “Monuments and Storefronts Go RED.” The PNC Tower, Fountain Square, the Christ Hospital tower and the Duke Energy Center sign light up red for the month in an effort to increase awareness of women’s heart health.

Seven years ago, two young breast cancer survivors, Tracie Metzger and Dawn Harvey, formed Pink Ribbon Girls as a support group to educate, support and inspire young women confronted with that disease. They developed a national database for members to connect with other young women having similar experiences.

The YWCA of Greater Cincinnati is also devoted to women’s health awareness and information, with a variety of programs. Its Breast & Cervical Health Network — named after the founder, Elaine S. Boynton — collaborates with various health agencies, groups, hospitals and doctors to reach under-served women and offer them education, screening and support for breast and cervical cancer.

The network’s community outreach programs range from instruction on breast self-exams to mammograms using mobile units from local hospitals. The YWCA’s “Water Lilies” is an aquatic conditioning program for women recovering from mastectomies. Those classes are held at the YWCA Fitness Center, which is now managed by TriHealth.

Local hospitals are a good source for information on women’s health, as many sponsor programs, initiatives and events. Area health, wellness and fitness centers, including those operated by Mercy Health Partners and TriHealth, keep expanding classes that are popular among women, including Pilates, spinning, water aerobics and yoga.

Leading Causes of Dealth among all U.S. Women:
1 Heart Disease 27.2%
2 Cancer 22.0%
3 Stroke 7.5%
4 Chronic lower respiratory diseases 5.2%
5 Alzheimer’s disease 3.9%
6 Unintentional injuries 3.3%
7 Diabetes 3.1%
8 Influenza and pneumonia 2.7%
9 Kidney disease 1.8%
10 Septicemia* 1.5%
U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 2004
* Also known as sepsis, a bacterial infection.


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