Two decades of research gauging wellness nationwide discovered scary health trends for women. Some indicators have improved in recent years—national mortality rates from heart disease and breast cancer have dipped (though not for black women)—but others scream for prompt attention, said Cynthia Hess of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“Health isn’t something that exists in a vacuum,” Hess said. “It’s connected to economic security, access to affordable health care, housing quality, access to healthy food and racism.”
To change the course of these trends, policymakers have to address the root causes of illnesses that strike about half the United States population. The top six highlighted in IWPR’s report:
1. Less than 50 percent of women in this country exercise regularly. Women in Colorado and Vermont report being the most active, with 59 percent reporting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee bring up the rear, with less than a third of the female population in all three states getting some sort of workout in on a regular basis. This fact is occurring simultaneous to obesity remaining a growing concern for U.S. women: Nearly six in 10 women are overweight, or have a body mass index of 25 or greater.
2. More women are being diagnosed with diabetes, especially black and Native American women. According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of women in this country have the disease, which increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and blindness. One study found biological risk factors—including weight and fat around the abdomen—are leading contributors for higher rates of diabetes for black Americans.
3. Mental health is worsening across the country. Women reported feeling more distressed everywhere except New Mexico, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. The median number of days per month women reported experiencing poor mental health—anxiety, depression, stress—increased about 11 percent over the last half-decade.
4. Chlamydia is on the rise. The incidence of the U.S.’s most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection has surged among American women of all ages over the last decade. (Men also saw a major increase, though but rate among them remains lower.) Medical professionals say this infection is easily spread because it often causes no symptoms and may be unknowingly passed between sexual partners. In fact, about 75 percent of infections in women and 50 percent in men don’t have symptoms. While every state saw their chlamydia rates among women increase over the last decade, the largest growth occurred in North Dakota, Massachusetts and Arkansas.
5. More American women are killing themselves. Suicide rates are rising across the country, with rates up 30 percent since 1999. But the suicide rate among women in this country has jumped an alarming 50 percent since 1999, outpacing male suicides by nearly 30 percent. No one knows why this disturbing trend is taking place, though experts believe it’s likely a combination of reasons: 1) federal funding for mental health care has decreased; 2) stigma around seeking help for mental health issues discourage folks from getting care; 3) financial worries have increased; and 4) stress levels have also risen. Rates varied by ethnicity, with white and Native American women being most likely to commit suicide.
6. Black women are nearly 30 times more likely to have AIDS as an Asian woman. Incidence rates of AIDS for black women—28 per 100,000—are nearly six times higher than the rate for all women. That’s almost 30 times higher than among Asian women and about 20 times higher than white women. The lone bright spot in this scary health trend: Black women are the most likely to get tested for HIV. Sixty percent have been tested compared with only 30 percent of Asian and white women.