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USA: Despite decades of promises, health research still overlooks women

Women are underrepresented in clinical trials, and even lab mice are predominantly male – and the effects show up in almost every aspect of human health

Women are twice as likely as men to die from heart attacks; when a nonsmoker dies of lung cancer, it’s twice as likely to be a woman as a man; and women suffer more than men from Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disease.

Yet research into these conditions, and many more, generally fails to examine women separately. It’s even less likely to look at disparities affecting women of color – why, for instance, Black women are nearly three times more likely to die in pregnancy than white women are.

It’s been 30 years since the US Congress ordered the National Institutes of Health to make sure women were included equally in clinical trials. Despite some progress, research on women still lags, and there’s growing evidence that women and girls are paying the price.

“Research on women’s health has been underfunded for decades, and many conditions that mostly or only affect women, or affect women differently, have received little to no attention,” the first lady Jill Biden said in announcing a new White House initiative on women’s health research on 13 November.

“Because of these gaps, we know far too little about how to manage and treat conditions like endometriosis, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. These gaps are even greater for communities that have historically been excluded from research – including women of color and women with disabilities.”

Not only do researchers fail to include enough women in clinical trials, they often don’t look for differences between how men and women respond to treatments.

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Source: The Guardian, 20 November 2023

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