Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Medical Science Screws Women's Health Yet Again

Results of the recent study that found middle-aged Americans to be less healthy than middle-aged Brits have received plenty of attention in the last few weeks. Headlines include "British Healthier Than Americans In Middle Age" and "British Population Healthier Than US Population"; the participants of the study are described as "people," "residents," and "participants."

What's interesting is that while the articles generally mention the participants are all white (this is third-paragraph material, intended to show the scientists have narrowed the study population to avoid having poverty or race show up as confounding variables), none of the articles, except for Slate's, mentions that the study participants were all men.

Researchers often leave women out of studies, generally on the grounds that our wacky hormones throw off their data (because, as you know, data based on an incomplete picture of human health -- i.e., a picture in which half of the entire human population is left out -- is way more accurate). This causes a number of problems, including the recent discovery that the tests for detecting heart disease, developed largely in research performed on men, can't detect heart disease in many women because their circulatory blockages occur in areas these tests aren't designed to detect. So leaving women out of medical research isn't some cosmetic issue of fairness or equality. It is literally killing us.

In studies like the British study, the issue is less one of life-saving tests and drugs not being tested to see whether they are adequate for women's health needs, and more that such narrow tests don't really tell us anything about a population's health at large. If minorities are left out both in Britain and the US, we don't really know anything about their unique health situation -- and I find it profoundly offensive that we find the correlation of minority status and poor health so frequent and obvious that we no longer even bother to include that in the data. And if women are left out, we're left where we usually are: out of the picture.

Scientists are making the same mistakes now, in the 21st century, that they made when they researched the life-saving tests that keep men -- but not women -- from dying of heart failure. They're assuming that women and minorities have nothing important to add to the picture, so much so that white men can stand in for all "people." If "white male" equals "people" all by itself, you've got to wonder -- what does that make the rest of us?


Blogger Grace said...


9:59 AM  

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