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SWHR Calls on Congress to Make Significant Improvements to President’s 2018 Budget Proposal

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On May 23, 2017, President Donald J. Trump released his budget request to Congress for fiscal year (FY) 2018, calling for sizable cuts to discretionary public health research, treatment, and prevention programs supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) is deeply concerned and discouraged to see that the Administration has deprioritized research and development in the 2018 budget through substantial decreases for critical federal agencies,” said Dr. Amy M. Miller, SWHR president and CEO.

Budget cuts include slashing funding for NIH by 18 percent and eliminating its global health research arm, the Fogarty International Center.

SWHR is also concerned about the budget’s impact on the FDA. “Reducing the agency’s public funding by nearly a third after negotiated agreements between FDA, industry, and the patient advocacy community have been reached is misguided and shortsighted,” said Dr. Miller.

Without the proper support and funding of medical and scientific research and product regulation, the advances needed to improve the health of women cannot be realized. SWHR urges Members of Congress to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal that continues to recognize the importance of maintaining our nation’s leadership by keeping biomedical research and innovation a priority.

“Ensuring the sustainability of programs that foster the availability of safe and effective treatments is essential to women living longer, healthier, and more productive lives,” said Dr. Miller. “We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to realize this goal.”

For more information on SWHR’s advocacy work, visit http://swhr.org. To speak with a spokesperson, please contact Heena Patel at heena@swhr.org.

About SWHR
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC. A thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease, SWHR is dedicated to advancing women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.

Sleep, Pregnancy, And Your Future Health

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By Judette Louis MD, MPH University of South Florida, SWHR Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep Member and Mary Ashley Cain MD, University of South Florida

For many women, pregnancy can be a period of anxiety and concerns. After months of watching her diet and following the doctor’s orders, a new mother now must focus on her wonderful, rapidly growing and sometimes demanding, infant. As life moves on, mothers are happy to forget all the concerns of pregnancy, unaware that pregnancy provides a window into their future health.

One particular problem, poor sleep during pregnancy, is often blamed on heartburn, frequent urination, or even the baby’s movement. Poor sleep in pregnancy, however, may be due to the worsening of a condition known as sleep apnea. Women with sleep apnea experience pauses in breathing while they sleep which results in low oxygen levels in their blood. The brain registers these pauses and wakes the woman up to resume normal breathing. Symptoms of this condition can include snoring and excessive sleepiness during the day. Recent studies have confirmed that women with sleep apnea are two times as likely to develop pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, or preeclampsia [1]. Having any of these conditions makes a woman’s pregnancy riskier, and the risk continues after pregnancy ends.

Studies increasingly suggest that women who have gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, or preeclampsia are more likely to have heart disease later in life [2]. The studies have been so consistent that the American Heart Association now recognizes gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia as risk factors for heart disease in women [3]. Considering that heart disease is the number one cause of death in women, we need to pay attention to these studies.

One important question to ask is, “how soon do we see the difference?” The answer is concerning. One study found a 20 percent increase in heart disease and stroke among women who suffer from preeclampsia as early as three to five years after delivery [4]. This finding indicates that we may need to act quickly if we want to prevent heart disease.

The next important question is, “what can we do about it?” Doctors and researchers are looking for ways to prevent heart disease in women who experience these pregnancy complications. In the meantime, there are some well-recognized ways to lower your risk of heart disease. Women who breastfeed are 20 to 30 percent less likely to develop heart disease than women who have never breastfed. In addition, the American Heart Association also recommends “Life’s Simple 7” as key factors to achieving ideal heart health [5]. They include 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity each week, controlling cholesterol, stopping smoking, eating healthier foods, maintaining a normal body weight, controlling blood pressure, and controlling blood sugar. Outside of pregnancy, treatment of sleep apnea has also been associated with a decrease in heart disease-related deaths in women [6]. If you have sleep apnea or have had pregnancy complications, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to decrease your chance of developing heart disease.

The Society for Women’s Health Research Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep is committed to promoting awareness of sex and gender differences in sleep and circadian rhythms across the lifespan, and the impact they have on health and wellbeing. Learn more about the Sleep Network here.

References

1. Facco FL, Parker CB, Reddy UM, et al. Association Between Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2017;129(1):31-41.

2. Rich-Edwards JW, Fraser A, Lawlor DA, Catov JM. Pregnancy characteristics and women’s future cardiovascular health: an underused opportunity to improve women’s health? Epidemiologic reviews. 2014;36(1):57-70.

3. Mosca L, Benjamin E, Berra K, et al. Effectiveness-based guidelines for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in women—2011 update: a guideline from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2011;123(11):1-20.

4. Cain MA, Salemi JL, Tanner JP, Kirby RS, Salihu HM, Louis JM. Pregnancy as a window to future health: maternal placental syndromes and short-term cardiovascular outcomes. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. 2016;215(4):484 e481-484 e414.

5. Sacco RL. The new American Heart Association 2020 goal: achieving ideal cardiovascular health. Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine. 2011;12(4):255-257.

6. Campos-Rodriguez F, Martinez-Garcia MA, de la Cruz-Moron I, Almeida-Gonzalez C, Catalan-Serra P, Montserrat JM. Cardiovascular mortality in women with obstructive sleep apnea with or without continuous positive airway pressure treatment cohort study. Annals of internal medicine. 2012;156(2):115-122.

SWHR Supports Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s Confirmation to Lead FDA

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Distinguished physician and health policy expert, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, has been confirmed by the Senate as the next Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner. President Donald Trump nominated him in March 2017.

Dr. Gottlieb previously served as FDA Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs under the George W. Bush Administration and as a senior policy advisor to the Administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. He is currently a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, and a member of the Federal Health IT Policy Committee at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) congratulates Dr. Gottlieb on his confirmation. Having supported his nomination, SWHR is pleased that he has been presented with this new role.

“Dr. Gottlieb is a thoughtful leader who has significant experience in understanding the realities and nuances of federal policy,” said Dr. Amy M. Miller, SWHR President and CEO. “We look forward to working with him and the Agency, as they enhance drug approval standards that will ensure medical products are safe and effective for all Americans.”

SWHR CEO Policy Watch Report – FDA Developments

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By Amy M. Miller, PhD, SWHR President and CEO


Congress Moves One Step Closer to New Commissioner for FDA

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP Committee) recently voted in favor of Dr. Scott Gottlieb to be the next commissioner of the FDA. Dr. Gottlieb’s nomination will now go to the full Senate for a final vote.

Dr. Gottlieb’s extensive work as a senior policy advisor to the Administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and as a former deputy FDA commissioner during the George W. Bush administration makes him a thoughtful nomination for the post. He has significant experience in understanding the realities and nuances of federal policy, and will likely be a strong steward of the science that backs FDA’s regulatory decisions.

SWHR looks forward to working with the FDA under his leadership once the confirmation process is completed.

User Fee Legislation Begins Moving Through Congress
Congress has begun reauthorizing the mechanism by which the FDA funds its regulatory work, releasing a draft bill from the HELP Committee; and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The reauthorization would cover the FDA user fee programs for pharmaceuticals, generic drugs, biosimilar medicines, and medical devices for fiscal years 2018 through 2022. In return for agreeing to specific performance goals to help support efficient reviews, the FDA would collect $879 million in prescription (pharmaceuticals) user fees, $494 million in generic drug fees, $45 million in biosimilar fees, and $183 million in medical device fees in FY2018.

SWHR recognizes the critical role that user fees play in maintaining efficient, predictable, and transparent FDA review processes of new innovative treatments and medical products that support women’s health. That is why SWHR participated in the discussions the FDA conducted with healthcare stakeholders and industry in 2015 and 2016, regarding performance goals and procedures in the reauthorization for the user fee programs.

We applaud the Senate and House Committees for advancing efforts to ensure a timely reauthorization of these vital funding mechanisms and recommend that Congress pass the user fee legislation as negotiated.

Drug Trials Snapshots: The Result of Successful User Fee Policy
Until recently, information about individuals participating in clinical drug trials was not readily available or accessible. Patients were left wondering if a drug had been tested on people like them and, if so, what were the benefits and side effects. Healthcare stakeholders who were involved in ensuring that the data collected was relevant and meaningful also had difficulty making such determinations.

Now, the situation is changing with the FDA’s Drug Trials Snapshots. The website provides information about who participated in clinical trials for every novel drug (i.e., a new medicine that has never been used in the U.S. marketplace) that receives FDA approval. The “Snapshot” for each drug identifies participants by the demographic subgroups of sex, race, and age; and outlines the differences in the drug’s benefits and side effects among the various subgroups.

Our work, in partnership with the American Heart Association and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, facilitated the passage of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) that was signed into law in July 2012 (Public Law 112-144). It included a provision (Section 907) that directed the FDA to report on which demographic subgroups are included and analyzed in clinical trials, and also required the agency to develop an action plan on how it will address any shortcomings identified in this reporting. To address this mandate, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research created the Drug Trials Snapshots initiative.

The Snapshots website enhances communication with the public on drug safety and efficacy, and it gives healthcare stakeholders an important tool to use when addressing the issue of including sufficient diverse patient populations in drug trials to enable data analysis that is clinically relevant and meaningful.

SWHR commends the agency for its efforts and is committed to working with the FDA and other healthcare stakeholders to advance the conversation regarding clinical trial demographics.

Administrations May Change, But the Scientific Mission Should Not

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By Rebecca Nebel, PhD, SWHR Scientific Programs Assistant Director and Natalia Gurevich, SWHR Communications Assistant

The scientific community will gather this Earth Day, April 22, to take a public stand “to defend the vital role science plays in health, safety, economies, and governments,” at a March for Science event taking place in more than 500 cities across the world.

As this march approaches, the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) recalls the scientific principle the organization is grounded upon: diversity in science. Everyone—regardless of gender, color, sexual orientation, or creed—deserves a voice in science and representation in research. For nearly 30 years, SWHR has tirelessly advocated for greater inclusion of women and minorities in medical research, more representation of women in STEM, increased funding for women’s health and sex differences research, and raised awareness of these needs to the public, researchers, and policymakers alike.

“We remain hopeful that the new administration and Congress will remove impediments that obstruct the scientific process, to allow for fully-funded, transparent scientific advancements that will undoubtedly improve the lives of everyone,” said Amy M. Miller, PhD, SWHR president and CEO.

However, SWHR is concerned about the potential impact of cutting federal spending for scientific research and the jobs they provide. Federal funds currently account for less than 30 percent of total U.S. research and development funding. Yet, the government provides the majority of funding for basic research, as well as research conducted at universities and colleges throughout our nation [1]. Proper support of scientific research is necessary for improving the health and well-being of Americans. For example, drug development, even from the private sector, is often based on publicly funded research [2]. Without enough support, the American people will be denied new life-saving treatments. Moreover, publicly supported scientific research also helps to boost the economy. On average, every U.S. dollar spent by the National Institutes of Health generates more than double that in additional economic output within one year [3].

SWHR supports the free exchange of ideas from a diverse audience to continue the collaborative thinking that has helped establish the U.S. as a leader in scientific progress. Instituting travel ban restrictions impacts the capabilities of the scientific community. A diverse group of researchers and scientists can increase productivity and lead to better decision-making and problem-solving, all of which are key to scientific progress. Each person brings their own experiences and ways of thinking, which in turn can create new perspectives, innovation, and cutting-edge breakthroughs in medical and scientific research.

When boundaries are placed on funding and diversity, it limits the potentials of science. As the leading science-based advocate for advancing women’s health interests, SWHR has seen firsthand the crucial role science has played in improving the health of all women. It is critical that the vital role of science in our society not be diminished, not just for women, but for all Americans.

About SWHR
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC. A thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease, SWHR is dedicated to advancing women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.

References:

  1. National Science Board. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation, 2014. (NSB 14-01).
  2. Kesselheim, AS, et al. The roles of academia, rare diseases, and repurposing in the development of the most transformative drugs. Health Affairs, 2015. 34(2): 286-293.
  3. Macilwain, C. Science economics: What science is really worth. Nature, 2010. 465(7299): 682-684.
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SWHR Convenes Leaders in Health Policy for Second Annual Awards Dinner Symposium: The State of Women’s Health

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The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) held its Second Annual Awards Dinner Symposium: The State of Women’s Health in Washington, DC, on March 22, 2017, gathering some of the best minds in health policy to discuss advancements in women’s health, and to explore existing policy challenges in understanding gender and ethnic disparities in health.

Amy M. Miller, PhD, president and CEO of SWHR, delivered the welcoming remarks, followed by Monica P. Mallampalli, PhD, MSc, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at SWHR, who spoke about the tremendous progress in women’s health and then introduced the event speakers.

Cynthia Hess, PhD, Associate Director of Research Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shared findings on women’s health and well-being across the U.S. based on state level data published in IWPR’s Status of Women in the States 2015 report.

“Good policy needs to be based on data acknowledging that women’s experiences are different from men, and that experiences among women and men vary according to practice such as race and ethnicity, age, sexual identity, geographic location, and so forth,” said Dr. Hess.

Marsha Henderson, MCRP, Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), discussed the Office of Women’s Health at FDA’s improvements to the quality of life for women and their families, particularly through ensuring inclusion of women in clinical trials, publicizing pregnancy registries, as well as advising about FDA’s wide range of regulated products including foods, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.

Linda Blount, MPH, President and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), spoke about how big data in health research can often overlook underlying social determinants. She shared findings from BWHI’s IndexUS, the first comparative index of black women’s health.

Andrew Sperling, JD, Director of Federal Legislative Advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, addressed gender differences in mental illness and the need for more precise diagnostics of many psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.

While the status of women’s health in the U.S. has improved, disparities and health outcomes for women of different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups still need to be addressed through increased investments in prevention and treatments. SWHR will work with these organizations to address these challenges and facilitate the necessary advances to improve the health and well-being of all women.

The symposium concluded with a brief Q&A session, followed by a networking reception that led into SWHR’s 27th Annual Awards Dinner.

SWHR expresses gratitude to all who supported and attended the event, including our generous sponsors Amgen, Eli Lilly and Company, Spectrum Communications, and Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

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The Society for Women’s Health Research Celebrates Three Outstanding Honorees

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CONTACT:
Heena Patel
202-223-8224
heena@swhr.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 4, 2017

The Society for Women’s Health Research Celebrates Three Outstanding Honorees

Awards dinner honors visionaries AARP Executive Myrna Blyth, Senator Susan Collins, and Dr. Mary Lake Polan

WASHINGTON, DC (April 4, 2017) – The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) hosted its 27th annual awards dinner on March 22 at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC, where nearly 400 guests gathered to celebrate advances in women’s health and honor three individuals with the Women’s Health Visionary Award:

  • Myrna Blyth, Senior Vice President and Editorial Director of AARP Media, overseeing AARP The Magazine, AARP Bulletin, AARP Studios, AARP Book Division, and the AARP Website.
  • Senator Susan Collins, Senior Senator from Maine, ranks nineteenth in Senate seniority and is the most senior Republican woman.
  • Mary Lake Polan MD, PhD, MPH, Clinical Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine.

“We were pleased to honor Myrna Blyth, Senator Susan Collins, and Dr. Mary Lake Polan. Each have advocated for women’s health in their respective diverse fields of work for many years,” said Dr. Amy M. Miller, SWHR president and CEO. “Through education, research, or innovation, their contributions have inspired women to be advocates for their own health.”

Award-winning journalist Leon Harris, who is best known for anchoring newscasts for ABC7/WJLA-TV in Washington, DC emceed the event. Harris discussed his own experience in overcoming pancreatitis, the importance of health awareness and education, and introduced guest speakers and awardees throughout the evening.

A special guest appearance was made by Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News anchor, and now managing editor and anchor of the television news magazine Dan Rather Reports, who presented the award to longtime friend Dr. Polan. In her acceptance speech, she spoke about her support of SWHR.

“Working with the organization over many years has been a wonderful experience, promoting this movement for women’s health not only in the US, but overseas as well,” said Dr. Polan.

Following the awards presentation, Dr. Miller concluded with remarks on the importance of SWHR’s mission and what the organization plans to accomplish in the future. “In the face of possible drastic federal cuts to research and affordable care, we continue our legacy of successful advocacy for women’s health,” said Dr. Miller.

In addition to the gala dinner, SWHR also hosted its second annual gala symposium earlier in the day. The symposium featured a keynote discussion on research gaps in underrepresented diseases in women and minority ethnic groups. Notable speakers included Linda Goler Blount, MPH, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Black Women’s Health Imperative; Marsha Henderson, MCRP, Assistant Commissioner for Women’s Health at the US Food and Drug Administration; Cynthia Hess, PhD, and Associate Director of Research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research; and Andrew Sperling, JD, Director of Federal Legislative Advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

SWHR expresses gratitude to all who supported and attended the event, including our generous Award Benefactor sponsors AARP, Hearst, and also our Leadership sponsors Amgen, Astellas, Celgene, PhRMA, Genentech, and Roche.

Proceeds from the event will benefit SWHR’s science, advocacy, and educational programs, which ensure that women’s health remains a national priority.

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ABOUT SWHR

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is a national non-profit based in Washington DC. A thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease, SWHR is dedicated to advancing women’s health through science, advocacy, and education. Founded in 1990 by a group of physicians, medical researchers and health advocates, SWHR aims to bring attention to the variety of diseases and conditions that disproportionately or predominately affect women. For more information, visit http://www.swhr.org. Follow us on Twitter at @SWHR

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SWHR’s 27th Annual Gala: The State of Women’s Health

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 2, 2017

CONTACT:
Heena Patel, Communications Director
202-223-8224
heena@swhr.org

Celebratory event honors visionary women on Wednesday, March 22 in Washington DC

WASHINGTON, DC (February 2, 2017) – The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®), widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease, will host its 27th Annual Gala: The State of Women’s Health on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, DC.

SWHR’s Gala will host more than 400 attendees, including members of Congress; researchers and clinicians; advocacy groups and disease awareness organizations; professional, scientific and medical associations; and individuals interested in the advancement of women’s health.

This year’s gala honorees will be presented the Women’s Health Visionary Award and include:

  • Myrna Blyth, Senior Vice President and Editorial Director of AARP Media, overseeing AARP The Magazine, AARP Bulletin, AARP Studios, AARP Book Division, and the AARP Website;
  • Susan Collins, Senator from Maine, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Aging and the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and also serves on the Intelligence Committee, as well as the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and
  • Mary Lake Polan, MD, PhD, MPH, Clinical Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine.

“The Society for Women’s Health Research is delighted to honor Myrna Blyth, Senator Susan Collins, and Dr. Mary Lake Polan for their lifetime of exemplary leadership and commitment to professional excellence,” said Amy M. Miller, PhD, SWHR president and CEO. “These extraordinary visionaries are powerful role models who have made unique contributions in advancing women’s health.”

SWHR will also host its Second Annual Gala Symposium on March 22, 2017, which will convene some of the best minds in health policy. The symposium will feature a series of presentations on the existing challenges and important advances needed to improve the health of women of all ages. Based on this discussion, SWHR will identify strategic next steps to addressing some of the most important policy issues related to women’s health.

From its inception, SWHR has worked to further women’s health and the study of biological sex differences and continues to raise awareness of the impact of sex differences on diseases and treatment. All event proceeds will benefit SWHR’s science, advocacy, and educational programs, which ensure that women’s health remains a national priority.

Media are invited to attend the gala. To request a complimentary seat, email your name and news organization to communications@swhr.org.

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About SWHR

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education. Founded in 1990 by a group of physicians, medical researchers and health advocates, SWHR aims to bring attention to the variety of diseases and conditions that disproportionately or predominately affect women.

For more information, visit http://www.SWHR.org. Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWHR.

 

 

 

 

 

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SWHR Calls on the New Administration to Safeguard Women’s Health

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The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) offers support to both the President Trump administration and Congress and will actively build on the progress made in advancing women’s health in the U.S. and worldwide.

Approximately 157 million women live in this country; accounting for 50.8 percent of the U.S. population. For more than 25 years, our organization has brought attention to the variety of diseases and conditions that disproportionately or predominately impact women, and we are dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education. With a new administration in the White House, it is crucial now more than ever to remember why women’s health is important and why it must remain a high priority on the national agenda.

For a century or more, the U.S. has paved the way in scientific research and medicine. Our leadership must continue. As an organization, SWHR looks forward to working with the incoming administration and Congress on championing continued research and funding of the study of sex and ethnic differences in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease; expanding access to healthcare coverage for preventive care services, including well-woman visits; ensuring proper mental health services and screenings by healthcare providers; and other important health policy issues that disproportionally affect women. Accelerating our progress in understanding the science of sex differences will benefit the health and longevity of both women and men.

Our tireless advocacy efforts for over a quarter-of-a-century have resulted in the passage of notable legislation, including the Women’s Health Office Act that mandated the offices on women’s health within the Department of Health and Human Services, and the authorization for offices and positions of women’s health among five federal agencies, including the Office on Women’s Health, the Office of the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office of the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. We anticipate the new administration will continue to appropriately staff and fund the offices on women’s health.

SWHR is hopeful the Trump administration will make the promotion of women’s health a prominent component in its national agenda, and that Congress will appropriately fund a federal research agenda that is inclusive of women’s health and sex differences research, which will ultimately improve the lives of all Americans.

ABOUT SWHR

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education. Founded in 1990 by a group of physicians, medical researchers and health advocates, SWHR aims to bring attention to the variety of diseases and conditions that disproportionately or predominately affect women.

For more information, visit www.SWHR.org. Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWHR.

 

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Sexual and Gender Minorities: The Silent Majority in the World of Mental Health

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By Natalia Gurevich, SWHR Communications Intern

This past year mental health has been at the forefront of national coverage, especially with the recent presidential election, where both nominees acknowledged mental health as an issue of public health concern. For one group in particular, sexual and gender minorities, mental health is an issue compounded by additional stressors that can occur daily. Sexual and gender minorities are affected by more discrimination and stigma throughout their lives than the general population [1]. As a result, mental health issues also disproportionately affect this group [1].

Sexual and gender minorities are a group whose sexual identity, orientation, or practices differ from the majority of the population [2]. Sexual and gender minorities usually comprise of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals [2]. The term sexual and gender minority is fairly new, and is currently used by the National Institutes of Health, which established the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office in September 2015. While many studies and groups still use LGBT or LGBTQ, for the purposes of inclusion and for this post, SWHR will use the term sexual and gender minority.

The population is probably slightly larger than reported, but those who publicly identify as a sexual and gender minority only make up about 3.4 percent of the U.S. population [3]. However, for this small minority group, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among those aged 10–24 years. Sexual and gender minority youth contemplate or attempt suicide 4 times more frequently than the general population [1].

Sexual and gender minorities are also more affected by disorders, like depression and substance abuse. Most of these disorders affect sexual and gender minority adolescents at a higher rate than their cis gender, heterosexual peers [4]. A lot of internalized disorders (mental health) and external disorders (drug and alcohol addiction) that begin to develop in teenage years often manifest themselves into deeper issues continuing into adulthood [5]. Therefore, many researchers focus on adolescence in sexual and gender minorities in an effort to better understand the root cause of mental health issues within this group.

A study published in 2008 by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that stress was the main compounding factor [4] to higher rates of mental health issues in sexual and gender minorities compared to the rest of the population. Chronic stress leads to dysregulated emotions and sexual and gender minorities face multiple stressors during adolescence, including peer victimization, and in some cases, physical assault and rejection from their family [4]. Coping with these extraneous stressors, along with various other issues facing adolescents in general, potentially keep sexual minorities from developing emotional maturity and adaptability relative to their heterosexual peers [4], which can extend into adulthood.

Another study published in 2010 by the American Journal of Public Health found that three categories for discrimination—gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation—were often compounded together, and when combined, led to higher rates of substance abuse [6], particularly in adulthood. An estimated 20-30 percent of sexual and gender minorities abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population [1].

Substance abuse is an external disorder that often goes hand-in-hand with internal disorders. Because sexual minorities face discrimination and social stigma on a higher basis than other subpopulations, daily stressors often increase their risk for anxiety, depression, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, psychological distress, body image disturbance, and eating disorders [2]. While the president-elect has spoken on mental health in the past, he has yet to announce a formal platform on the issue [7]. SWHR hopes that the new administration will recognize the current issues surrounding mental health and develop new policies to combat this public health concern.

Education and awareness on sexual and gender minorities and mental health should be addressed as early as possible in adolescents and continue into adulthood. If you are a member of the sexual and gender minority community or even if you are not, talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions relating to mental health.

At SWHR, we believe that mental health is an important issue that affects members of every community, either personally or through a loved one. Everyone is entitled to receive the proper care and support they deserve, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or race/ethnicity. Sexual and gender minorities belong to a group greatly affected by mental health issues, but are vastly underrepresented in research. All the mental health implications will remain relatively unknown without more research and education on this minority group. Learn more about SWHR and the work we do on mental health here.

References:

  1. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3657897/
  3. http://www.gallup.com/poll/158066/special-report-adults-identify-lgbt.aspx
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2881586/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4976222/#B1
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2937001/
  7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-election-vote-with-your-mind_us_580678f4e4b08ddf9ece1139

 

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