When I was five years old visiting my grandmother in the hospital, I stood in the elevator with my mom while sporting my “Dr. Emma” green lab coat and toy stethoscope around my neck. “Look Emma, a real doctor!” my mom said. “That could be you one day!” The doctor was not amused, turned to me and said, “Oh, you want to be a nurse?”
There was nothing wrong with being a nurse, but my lab coat clearly read “Doctor,” and because of the stereotypes within the medical field, my mom made his immediate sexism very clear to him. We walked out of the hospital, my mom baffled by the fact that in 2000, young women were still being talked out of roles they should be able to accomplish. While we’ve come a long way even in the past seventeen years, there’s still work to do.
My career path shifted from healthcare to health communications over the span of high school and college, but I still believe in the role of health in overall success. Healthcare and self-care are essential components of women’s health, and with healthy minds and bodies, we are able to accept and conquer the challenges of daily life.
Healthcare quality, access to care and healthcare itself vary across the world. Female life expectancies range from 86 years in Hong Kong and Japan to 48 years in Swaziland due, in part, to these differences in care.
Despite the level of care and socioeconomic state of the country, many women’s health issues remain the same across borders and seas. From maternal and reproductive health to cardiovascular and mental health, women all face similar health concerns. The following are examples of some of the top issues for women’s health worldwide:
- Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women globally
- Breast cancer has the highest mortality rate among cancers for women aged 20-59 years worldwide
- Reproductive and sexual health problems cause one third of health issues for women between the ages of 15 and 44 years
- Depression is the most common mental health problem for women
- In 2012, 4.7 million women died before the age of 70 from noncommunicable diseases—road traffic accidents, tobacco use, alcohol abuse, drugs, and obesity being the leading causes
- Over 50% of women in Europe and the Americas are overweight, which leads to long term health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease
There are systemic issues globally and nationally that prevent women from receiving the care they deserve, but there are also steps we can take to ensure our health and improve our wellbeing. Success is harder to attain when we are held back by illness and disease. The list below is a short compilation of ways to take control of your health.
- Get an annual check-up. Primary care visits have declined in recent years despite holding a critical role in preventative, timely, and cost efficient care. Primary care providers assess your overall wellbeing by tracking health changes over time.
- Learn how to self-screen. Whether it’s for breast cancer or skin cancer, learning how to recognize signs of disease are an essential preventative step to avoiding serious, long term illness. Organizations like American Cancer Society provide information on how to do self-exams and educational material on what you should keep your eye out for.
- Take care of your mental health. One in five American adults experienced a mental health problem in 2014. Exercise, adequate sleep and activities like meditation and journaling can help with the stressors of every day life, but sometimes mental health care is needed. Psychiatry and therapy are highly stigmatized but an excellent solution to addressing mental health concerns, and it’s even as easy as video calling providers from home.
- Exercise & eat right. You’ve heard it before, but I’m saying it again. Whether it’s trying vegetarianism or practicing portion control, taking control of your diet means taking control of your health.
Women have many roles in society, but the underlying factor is that we must be healthy to fulfill those roles. Whether you are working, parenting, traveling, learning, saving the world, or all of the above, you are your best advocate for your health and wellbeing to do so.
Strong, healthy women. May we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.