U.S. Gets 'Unsatisfactory' Grade on Women's Health

More Women Binge Drinking, Fewer Getting Pap Smears, Analysis Shows

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Dec. 9, 2010 -- More women are binge drinking and fewer women are getting Pap smears to test for cervical cancer, a new analysis reveals. On a positive note, a lower proportion of women are dying of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and breast cancer.

The nation and most states continued to receive a grade of “unsatisfactory” on key issues affecting women’s health in an updated report released today by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

For the fifth time this decade and the first time since 2007, the group has issued a national and state-by-state report card on the status of important health goals for women set a decade ago by federal officials in their Healthy People 2010 initiative.

As the end of the decade approaches, the analysis revealed that very few of these goals have been met.

23 of 26 Health Goals Unmet

The number of women in the nation receiving mammograms, the number being screened for colorectal cancer, and the number that had annual dental exams met or exceeded national goals for 2010.

But 23 other health objectives graded by NWLC will not have been met by the end of this year.

And several disturbing health trends have emerged over the last three years, including:

  • The percentage of women that reported one or more episodes of binge drinking within a month of being questioned increased to 10.6% from 7.3% in 2007. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks on a single occasion.
  • The percentage of women that reported getting annual Pap smears declined from 86% to 78% during the same period.
  • The percentage of women that tested positive for the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia increased from 6.3% to 7.4%.

Compared to three years ago, a higher percentage of women in the U.S. are also obese and have high blood pressure and/or diabetes.

In 2010, 26.4% of women were obese, compared to 24% in 2007. Both figures fall far short of the goal of a 15% obesity rate by 2010 set by government health officials at the beginning of the decade.


State-by-State Findings

Colorado had the lowest obesity rate in the nation, at just below 20%; Mississippi had the highest, at 34%.

When states were ranked in terms of successful implementation of policies designed to address access to health care, California, Nevada, and Massachusetts came closest to meeting policy goals and Mississippi, Idaho, and South Dakota were at the bottom of the list.

The report noted that about 12% of Americans live in areas that are considered medically underserved. The state with the highest percentage of medically underserved residents was Louisiana, at 34%. The state with the lowest was New Jersey, at 1%.

Nationally, more than a third of women live in counties without an abortion provider, according to the report. Nineteen states restrict private insurers’ ability to cover abortions, and 26 require that a woman receive counseling before obtaining an abortion.

In a news conference held Wednesday, National Women’s Law Center vice president for health and reproductive rights Judy Waxman said health care reform is poised to address many of the access issues of concern.

She says of 68 policies dealing with insurance coverage and other aspects of access to medical, fully two-thirds are addressed to some degree by the new law, known as the Affordable Care Act.

“From 2000 to 2010 we have seen some improvements, some declines, but overall, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in terms of women’s health in this country,” she said. “The Affordable Care Act holds enormous potential for expanding coverage and, over time, improving women’s health.”

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 08, 2010



National Women’s Law Center: "Making the Grade on Women’s Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card."

Judy Waxman, vice president for health and reproductive rights, National Women’s Law Center.

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