NACOGDOCHES — Until just recently, the medical establishment has ignored the fact that women are more vulnerable to many diseases than men.
“Today’s woman is more likely to suffer from a chronic disease, especially if she is an older woman,” said Dr. Suzy Weems, associate professor of nutrition, family and consumer science at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Weems was one of a bank of experts who spoke at the Women’s Health Forum held on the university’s campus here Sept. 6.
Weems backed up her premise with an overview of health demographics. Though 52 percent of population in the United States, women today:
— Compose 72 percent of extended care (nursing home) populations.
— Comprise the population segment more likely to suffer from a chronic illness.
— Make 66 percent more visits to physicians than do men and are hospitalized 15 percent more frequently.
— Initiate 90 percent of the calls for health referrals.
Many of the statistics stem from the fact that women live longer than men and that many chronic illnesses occur later in life, Weems said. But the last statistic, the fact that women are most likely to be the family’s liaison to the health care system, is most important and more independent of the longevity factor.
“Consequently, the woman has a tremendous input to the well- being of the family. Therefore she — you — must pursue her own wellness to insure the wellness of her family,” Weems said.
As with men, obesity remains the greatest health risk factor for women in the United States. About a third of women in the United States are overweight or obese, Weems noted.
Coupled with the fact that 34 percent of adult women don’t exercise regularly, obesity becomes a problem linked with heart disease and all types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Lung cancer remains the biggest cancer killer, breast cancer accounts for about a quarter of the cancer death rate among women. About 200,000 women die yearly from breast cancer.
Eating a diet moderate in fat and high in fruits and grains and exercising regularly could save thousands of lives a year and improve the quality of life as well, Weems said.
“Women may be living longer, but not better,” she said.
Presented by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and cosponsored by SFASU, the Nacogdoches Medical Center and Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, the forum was planned by the Families in Transition Task Force (FIT).
The FIT task force is a non-profit marketing association formed to address critical issues affecting the economic, emotional and physical integrity of East Texas families. Though composed largely of Extension family and consumer science agents in 22 East Texas counties, its membership also includes key civic, county and political leaders.
Those wishing more information about FIT and how they can become involved should contact their local county Extension office.