Women's Health Watch

NOVEMBER 01, 2008

Healthy Living Prolongs Life

Harvard University researchers found that women with a healthy lifestyle greatly reduce their risk of dying from any cause, particularly from heart disease and cancer.

For the study, the researchers looked at data on 77,782 women who participated in the Brigham and Women's Hospitalbased Nurses Health Study. Beginning in 1980, the participants responded to yearly questions about lifestyle and health. The researchers estimated that the overall risk of death was reduced by 55% for women who never smoked, ate a healthy diet, maintained a healthy weight, and remained physically active. Furthermore, these women had a 44% lower risk of dying from cancer and a 72% lower risk of dying from heart disease.

The researchers also calculated individual risk factors. They found that 28% of the deaths were attributed to smoking, 14% from being overweight, 17% due to the lack of physical activity, and 13% to not eating healthy. Of the nonsmokers, 22% of deaths were due to being overweight. The findings were published in the September 17, 2008, online edition of the British Medical Journal.

Female Incontinence Is Common

Pelvic floor disorders, such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, or pelvic organ prolapse, are especially common in women in the United States. The findings are based on a review of data from nearly 2000 women over the age of 20 who had participated in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The participants were interviewed at home and were given a physical in a mobile examination center. The researchers found that 23.7% of women experienced at least one pelvic floor disorder. Nearly 16% of women reported urinary incontinence, 9% experienced fecal incontinence, and 2.9% reported pelvic organ prolapse. The findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Artery Disease, Secondhand Smoke Linked, Study Says

A study of Chinese women found that secondhand smoke exposure is a key risk factor for peripheral arterial disease. The study included 1209 women age 60 and older who never smoked. Reporting in the September 22, 2008, online issue of Circulation, the researchers learned that 477 patients were exposed to secondhand smoke at home or in the workplace for at least 2 years during the previous decade. The findings indicated that secondhand smoking raised the risk of peripheral arterial disease by 67% and the odds of heart disease and stroke by 69% and 56%, respectively. The risk of these problems also increased as the amount and duration of secondhand smoke rose.

Education Needed on Osteoporosis-Fracture Risk

A large, global survey showed that more than half of women with osteoporosis do not believe they are at a higher risk for experiencing a fracture, an issue of concern and frustration for the international research team.

"Despite the fact that awareness of osteoporosis itself has increased lately, many of these women just don't get it. Not just in the United States, but all over the world," said study coauthor Ethel S. Siris, MD.

The study involved >60,000 noninstutionalized women over the age of 55 who had visited their primary health care physician in the 2 years leading up to the study at 1 of 17 health care facilities in 10 countries. At the time of the study, a little more than 11,000 women had osteoporosis. The study results showed that 55% of women diagnosed with the bone-weakening disease did not believe they ran a higher risk of fractures, compared with women without the disease.

Weight Does Not Impede Sexual Activity

A high body mass index (BMI), indicating that a woman is overweight or obese, may not play a major role in her sexual activity, according to a study reported in Obstetrics and Gynecology (September 2008). The findings are based on surveys from 6690 women, 15 to 44 years old, who participated in the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth.

Overall, 54% of the women were of normal body weight (BMI <25). Of the remaining participants, 25% were overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) and 21% were considered obese (BMI >30). The researchers found no considerable differences among the weight groups in sexual orientation, sexual intercourse frequency, age at first intercourse, the number or lifetime male partners, or the number of male partners in the previous year. The investigators recommend further research into the link between BMI and women's sexual behavior because it can affect the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

F A S T   F A C T: At least 1 in 4 US women experiences a pelvic floor disorder.