The biggest study into the health of Australian women has clocked up 20 years
The biggest study into the health of Australian women has clocked up 20 years — and is set to expand to research their children’s well-being. The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health was started back in 1996 to ensure the country’s health policy was based on hard data. It followed 58,000 women across the country and the generations and is one of the biggest studies of its kind globally.
More than 700 researchers worldwide are using the data and 660 research projects have relied on the information to look at everything from reproductive health to domestic violence, obesity, breastfeeding and pre-determinates for serious illness. Study director Professor Gita Mishra said it provided information for health researchers, and guides health policy on a myriad of issues.
“It’s a gold mine,” she said.
“In terms of its depth because we have survey data, we also have qualitative data.
So not only are we moving across generations, but you know we are looking inter-generation and intra-generation of information.”
The participants open up their lives in the interest of science — filling in a lengthy survey that looks at their health, lifestyle and relationships, socio-economic factors and charting major life events like child birth, menopause, serious illness, and loss. The study is expanding to include the health of the children from the original young cohort — all 16,000 of them.
“We are hoping to see how the health of the children affects our cohort members, which are their mothers and also the health of the cohort members and how that affects the health of the children,” Professor Mishra said. And that development will see this project without rival anywhere in the world. The project is run by researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Newcastle.
‘It really does have an impact’
Founding director Professor Annette Dodson said none of the original researchers would have dreamt it would continue so long. She said it came about because men had been deciding women’s health policy and there was a push for change. “To investigate the issue of whether the health service was appropriate for women, whether it met their needs, whether they had good access and the role of women doctors, all those sorts of things, that was the essence of it.
“It was way beyond anybody’s imagination I think that it could actually keep going.
“It was the major input to the second National Women Health’s Policy … so it really does have impact. Researchers recruited women from across the country via Medicare in three age groups – women entering old age, a middle aged group, and a young cohort – 18 to 23 year olds. It is an anonymous process and the data from each woman is crunched with others – then compared through the years and across the generations. It is also linked with Medicare information and hospital admissions. Professor Mishra said it provided a clear picture of the state of women’s health.
“The nature of data is such that we are able to say, for instance, depression, we’re able to tell you how long it lasts in women, who’s at most risk of getting it and how severe they experience it,” she said.
Recent results highlight need to monitor new participants
A new cohort was recruited in the past few years and their results have been cause for concern. Back in 1996, one in five 18 to 23-years-olds reported symptoms of psychological distress. That figure has jumped to one in two. And while young women now exercise more, on average they were 4.5 kilograms heavier.
“The health of the new young cohort is something that we need to monitor because obviously they are heavier at such an earlier age and that implication on their health and well-being,” Professor Mishra said.
Source @ ABC.