Here’s a fascinating yet completely unsurprising observation about women’s health behaviour, and it goes to the core of why so many of us don’t seem to take our health more seriously.
Let me take a step back to provide some background.
A Melbourne study published in 2017 reported the results of an online questionnaire completed by over 26,000 Australian women of all ages about their health behaviours.
The research team had a particular interest in behaviours that would reduce the risk of vascular disease (i.e. heart disease and stroke).
They found that despite the constant messaging we get about diet and exercise, less than 30% of the women reported eating enough fruit and vegetables or doing enough physical activity.
It’s worth noting though that older women did a slightly better job of sticking to the guidelines, presumably because they’re less likely to be juggling kids and jobs.
The researchers concluded that if we could just boost women’s health behaviour in areas such as these, we could dramatically reduce their risk of vascular disease.
They didn’t tackle the question of why women don’t do what they know to do, though a separate interview done with the lead researcher — Professor Cassandra Szoeke, director of Melbourne Uni’s women’s healthy ageing project — pointed to one of the obvious answers.
Professor Szoeke was talking about dietary advice that’s provided in cardiac rehab programs for men and women.
When men need to make dietary changes their adherence tends to be good, she said, because the whole family switches to that diet. The man’s wife — who’s often the main cook in the household — makes that decision, no doubt reasoning that everyone will benefit.
Yet when women who’ve had a heart attack need to alter their diet, they make two meals — one for themselves and one for their husbands or the rest of the family.
Of course, their adherence is poor because of the burden of having to make two meals. Eventually they give up on making a separate one for themselves.
Bottom line: women are willing to put their husband’s health first but unwilling to do the same thing for themselves.
It’s the undoing of many a woman’s health and it’s disturbing, yet not exactly astonishing.
Unfortunately, many of us are either blind to it or convinced that putting our needs behind everyone else’s is the right thing to do.
It’s certainly the right thing to do if we’re committed to dying sooner.
No doubt it’ll take a generational change to turn this kind of behaviour around, but it’s imperative in the meantime that as individual women we become conscious of the potential impact that it has, not only on us but on our children and grandchildren who absorb the message it sends.