Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Women and Health Care

I like this recent article in Time magazine focusing on the women's powerful effect on family healthcare. I found it interesting because it touches on both anthropology and public health! And its interesting to see that health care companies will target women to get a message out, because if women are convinced they will have a large effect on everyone else in their families.

Here are some excerpts to the article (emphasis mine), the full version of which is linked below.

Lady Madonna: It's not easy to keep a family healthy, and the burden nearly always falls on women. For reasons big and small, nobody does it better

For humans, there has always been something about a health message coming from a woman that gives it special authority. The father may traditionally have been the head of the home — and the family doctor may traditionally have been male — but it was the mother who saw to it that the kids got vaccinated, Grandma made it to her heart specialist and Dad stayed on his blood-pressure meds. And while much about family life has changed over the decades, that part hasn't.

Women make the primary health care decisions in two-thirds of American households. They account for 80 cents out of every dollar spent in drugstores and are likelier than men to choose the family's health insurance. Even when both parents work, wives shoulder 75% of domestic responsibilities, including making the kids' doctor appointments and getting them there on time. "Women are the main brokers of health care in the United States," says Dr. William Norcross, a family physician and faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. "This has long been the case and is probably true elsewhere in the world too."

It is, and the rule is not limited to mothers. In the 1990s, when Nepalese children faced an epidemic of vitamin-A deficiency, which can be deadly, and health experts needed someone to help distribute supplements, they recruited the nation's grandmothers, knowing they had both the time to get the pills out and the moral authority to make sure kids took them. By 2005, 48,000 grandmothers were distributing vitamin A to 3.5 million kids.

"Global development agencies are cuing into this kind of thing too," says anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy of the University of California at Davis. "When you give resources or money to women, more winds up in children's health. When you give it to men, it's likelier to wind up going for things like tobacco."

There are a lot of variables that explain the mom-as-health-czar phenomenon. As with so many things, it begins with evolution, but it doesn't stop there. Females of nearly all species expend far more time and energy producing young than males do and are thus far more motivated to protect that investment. "I could count on two hands the number of species in which males are primary caregivers," says Hrdy.

In the infinitely more complex human world, of course, there's much more to it than that. One reason women may be more attuned to health issues, according to some researchers, is simply that their biology gives them more reason to be. "Women go through their childbearing years and are told to have regular checkups," says Patricia Braus, a public-health expert and author of the book Marketing Health Care to Women. "They're more likely to keep up a relationship with their doctor. Men drift away and don't come back until their 40s or 50s, when they have concerns like prostate cancer."

And as the Nepalese learned, there is almost no calculating how much good a grandmother can do. "In traditional societies, there are well-documented behavioral and cognitive benefits of having grandmothers in the home," says Hrdy. "Recently, behavioral ecologists have also found that in countries with high child mortality, there is actually an increase in survival when grandmothers live nearby."

This article also points out a great reason to INVEST IN WOMEN worldwide. If you are going to get involved in microfinance loans in order to alleviate poverty or improve health, the best place to put your money to loan it to a woman! They are more likely to put their money into their families and their community. 

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