May 12, 2011

Latest women’s health report card shows few gains

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Vanderbilt’s Stephaine Walker, M.D., MPH, talks about changes women can make to reverse unhealthy lifestyles at Tuesday’s release of the 2011 Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card at the Nashville Public Library. (photo by Joe Howell)

Latest women’s health report card shows few gains

The state of women's health in Tennessee has not significantly changed in the past decade, according to the 2011 Tennessee Women's Health Report Card, released this week. The take home message: there's much more work to be done.

The report card, last issued in 2009, provides a comprehensive picture of the status of the state's more than 3 million women. The report card gives grades A-F, looking at a five- year span of data about reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, leading causes of death, modifiable risk behaviors, preventive health practices and barriers to health.

A collaborative effort of the Vanderbilt Institute for Medicine and Public Health, Meharry Medical College, East Tennessee State University, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the Tennessee Department of Health, the report card highlights areas that need attention, especially in supporting lifestyle changes to prevent long-term health consequences.

“These grades provoke hard questions — what are we willing to do about this?” said Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and deputy director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Medicine and Public Health. “We're in a new decade now. Will it be different from the last? We need to commit to the changes that will improve the health of Tennessee's women.”

Some of the continuing areas of concern:

• Percentage of births in African-American women that were of VERY low birthweight. Grade: F

• Percentage of all women who smoked during pregnancy. Grade F

• Sexually transmitted infections (Chlamydia and latent, primary and secondary syphilis), cases per 100,000 women. Grade: F

• Breast and cervical cancer deaths in African-American women. Grade: F

• Heart disease deaths and stroke deaths per 100,000 women. Grade: F

• Percentage of white women (18 and older) with modifiable risk behaviors such as diabetes and high cholesterol. Grade: F.

The news wasn’t all bad, however, with diabetes, homicide and motor vehicle deaths for all women receiving an A.

Participants at this week's press conference at the Nashville Public Library included: Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine; Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, M.S.N., R.N.; Charles Mouton, M.D., MPH, dean of Meharry Medical College; and Stephaine Walker, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics at VUMC. The audience included state and local officials and health experts.

Hartmann said there have been many community-initiated groups resulting from the last women's health report card, resulting in positive lifestyle changes for the state's women. One large Nashville church started a fitness program for its congregation.

Stephaine Walker, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics at VUMC, said that change is possible through strategic community collaborations.

“Regardless of the size of the organizations, when we bring our resources together and make them available to the people who need them most, we can reverse the cycle of unhealthy lifestyle practices.”

Walker challenged the audience, “what are you going to do,” adding that education isn't enough — women in the state need to feel empowered to make lifestyle changes.

“My mom told me growing up, 'if you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.'”

To view videos of the speakers, go to