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From the Women's Health SIG

Reviving Attention on Women's Health at SBM
By: Leanne Mauriello, Ph.D. & Zaje Harrell, Ph.D.

The Context
Women's health remains a national health priority with a critical need to increase public awareness through major research advancements and announcements. For example, in March 2008, the results of a nationally representative study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that one in four adolescent girls are estimated to have a sexually transmitted infection. One year prior, in March 2007, new breast cancer screening guidelines were released recommending magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams, not just mammograms, for women at high risk for the disease. These prominent health-related news stories are in line with the ubiquitous pink ribbon campaign, focused on breast cancer awareness, and the more recent red dress campaign, focused on educating women about the risks for cardiovascular disease. In fact, among the most pressing health issues there are many with particular relevance to women:

  • Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the three leading causes of death in women and are all influenced by behavioral and psychosocial factors.
  • Women are more likely to be overweight and obese than are men.
  • Certain types of cancer are specific to women and disproportionately affect some groups of women more than others.
  • Type II diabetes is more common among women than men.
  • Depression, which has been shown to be related to chronic disease, is more prevalent among women than men.
  • Prevalence rates of HIV and AIDS among women are increasing worldwide.

Given these trends, would anyone dispute the fact that women's health research warrants continued, and even increased, attention by SBM members? We know that many of you are already working productively on these issues, particularly in regards to improving prevention and treatment efforts. As you know, the Special Interest Group (SIG) structure provides a forum for health professionals, researchers, and clinicians to share their innovations and challenges, as well as a venue for networking. Sadly, in the past few years, there has been a notable decline in participation in the Women's Health SIG. Given the importance of women's health issues in behavioral medicine, this decreased interest in the SIG is perplexing.

Our Current Challenge
We were among the very few who attended the Women's Health SIG Business Meeting at the annual meeting last April. The primary order of business was to discuss revitalizing the Women's Health SIG. We agreed to take an active role by becoming the new co-chairs of the SIG. Our mission is to reach out to all SBM members to revive the presence of not only the Women's Health SIG, but also attention on women's health at SBM.

Beginning Solutions
We realize that there are many competing presentations and roundtables at the annual meeting. It is our goal to stimulate and encourage more quantity and quality presentations and events related to women's health. We hope these efforts will help spark a renewed interest and active participation in the SIG. In the upcoming year we are planning to:

  • Honor a student researcher with an award that will be presented at the Women's Health SIG's breakfast roundtable at the annual meeting
  • Co-sponsor a panel with the Education Training and Career Development Council on work/life balance issues for women
  • Encourage members to submit papers, posters, and symposia on topics related to women's health topics
  • Advocate for more representation of society members with expertise in women's health as abstract reviewers
  • Encourage more regular use of the Women's Health SIG List Serv to post relevant scientific and professional information related to women's health research, practice, and career development.

Call to Action
The help of all society members is needed as we work to increase the visibility of women's health research and the Women's Health SIG at SBM. We ask society members, when applicable, to share how their research, interventions, and treatments are helping to advance women's health either through conference presentations or through posts to the Women's Health List Serv. Moreover, at the annual meeting let's revive communication on women's health issues in as many SBM sessions as possible. We ask current SIG members to become more actively involved in the SIG. As a first step, make a commitment to attend the breakfast roundtable student award presentation in Montreal. Please encourage your student researchers to submit proposals for the annual meeting related to women's health so they can compete for the award. Finally, we invite interested society members who are not yet members of our SIG to join the Women's Health SIG. Having our SIG membership numbers grow in the upcoming year would be a great sign of increased participation!

We welcome the reactions, ideas, and comments of all society members. Achieving our goal of increasing visibility on women's health at SBM is much larger than solely the Women's Health SIG membership. We hope to attract the attention and assistance of all society members. We would appreciate feedback and ideas on ways we could increase participation and attention on women's health at SBM. Our contact information is below. We look forward to hearing from you.

Leanne Mauriello, Ph.D.
Director of Behavior Change Projects
Pro-Change Behavior Systems, Inc.
Zaje Harrell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
Michigan State University