Women’s Health in the U.S. Fails to Make the Grade

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PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini

Women’s health initiatives in America are largely failing, according to the latest report card released by the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health and Science University.
Overall, the nation received a grade of Unsatisfactory, with 23 of the 26 goals outlined in the government’s Healthy People 2010 initiative — a decade-long effort to monitor the progress of the nation’s health objectives — remaining unmet.

This is the fifth and final report card for the decade, and its findings uncovered some troubling trends about the state of women’s health. Most notably, more women report binge drinking and fewer report being screened for cervical cancer than in 2007. On these two important indicators, the nation’s grade dropped to an F: the percentage of women who reported consuming five or more drinks at a time in the past month jumped more than 3% since 2007, to 10.6%, while the percentage of women who received annual pap smears dropped nearly 10% to 78% over the same time period. (More on Time.com: Health Check-Up: Women & Health)

Additionally, more women reported obesity, hypertension and diabetes than in 2007. And more have tested positive for chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause infertility.

State-by-state findings reveal similar trends. Massachusetts and Vermont received the highest grades with an S- (Satisfactory minus), while 37 states scored a U (Unsatisfactory) and 12 states failed. Louisiana and Mississippi came in 50th and 51st, respectively. No states received the highest possible score of S, or satisfactory.

Dr. Michelle Berlin, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine and associate director of the university’s Center for Women’s Health, told the New York Times that the findings were disappointing, given the length and comprehensiveness of the study. “The takeaway message is that we’re really not where we should be,” she said. (More on Time.com: Photos: A Brief History of Women in Power)

But despite this dismal picture, progress has been made in a few areas. One indicator — cholesterol screening — received a higher grade than in the previous report, moving from a U to an S-. Three benchmarks of the Healthy People 2010 initiative were met, including the percentage of women receiving regular mammograms, visiting the dentist and screening for colorectal cancer. Also notable is that the rate of smoking among women declined in 42 states, making that one of the most improved health status indicators.

The hope is that the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, will help raise these grades over the next decade and help the country meet goals set by Healthy People 2020. The health-care act includes a significant focus on women’s health, including an expansion in Medicaid eligibility, that could prompt improvements on issues that have so far failed to be addressed. However, many of the services won’t go into effect until 2014, leaving women’s health in a state of uncertainty for at least a few more years.

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