Women don't understand own health risks

Women understand health risks for males better than for females, a new study shows.

In a study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, women showed greater knowledge of what diseases kill men. However, regarding women's mortality, they revealed an exaggerated fear of breast cancer, but underestimated heart disease and lung and colon cancers. Such lack of knowledge itself could prove lethal.

"Accurate knowledge and perceived risk of coronary heart disease might impact whether women undergo regular cholesterol and blood pressure screening and whether women engage in health behaviors such as increasing leisure-time physical activity, improving diet, and engaging in regular stress management techniques," said Sara Wilcox, Ph.D., head of the study.

Wilcox, along with Marcia L. Stefanick, Ph.D., administered questionnaires to 200 San Francisco Bay area women. The women ranged in age from 41 to 95, with an average of 66. Most were white (86 percent) and fairly well-educated.

Overall, 76 percent correctly identified coronary heart disease as the leading cause of death among middle-aged men. Just 67 percent knew that cancer kills the most women in that age group. Participants knew even less about older people, though they still knew more about men. Fifty-nine percent correctly chose heart disease as the leading killer of older men. Only 45 percent correctly chose heart disease for women of that age group. Furthermore, older women in the study knew far less about what kills women in their own age group compared to other age groups. Only one in three women knew that heart disease is the leading killer of older women.

Breast cancer is not the leading cause of cancer death in women older than 54, yet more than half the group named it number one in women ages 55 to 64, and more than a third pinpointed it for each age group after that. In reality, lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in women ages 55 to 74; more th

Contact: Sara Wilcox, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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