Gender disparities in healthcare

New studies show the U.S. ranks last in preventable deaths, and a surprising majority are women.


Carol Lloyd
January 11, 2008 2:00AM (UTC)

New rankings about how countries deal with preventable deaths got me thinking about those elusive ills that deeply influence women's lives yet may never get attention. The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that out of 19 industrialized nations, France topped the list in avoiding preventable deaths and the United States was dead last. The research claims that if the U.S. performed as well as France, there would be 101,000 fewer preventable deaths each year.

With women constituting 51 percent of the population giving birth to all of it, it's not hard to see how healthcare policies might affect us more. It's also interesting to note that, as defined by the researchers, preventable deaths strike women more often than men. According to their definition -- which included deaths under age 75 from certain surgical procedures, bacterial infections, diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease -- preventable deaths account for 32 percent of deaths for women and only 23 percent of deaths for men.

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Since men typically die younger than women, one has to wonder what was left out of this definition. For instance, the researchers did not specifically mention pregnancy-related deaths (which obviously apply only to women) or causes of death from war or violence (which are more likely to kill men).

But with so many studies pointing to a measurable healthcare gap between men and women, it doesn't take a giant leap of paranoia to conclude that more women die of preventable deaths than men because fewer women are getting the healthcare they need. The researchers did note that the biggest difference between the United States and those countries at the top of the preventable-death rankings has mostly to do with access. Although American medicine may be a global model of cutting-edge expertise, American healthcare pretty much sucks for the 47 million people without insurance. Yet the most recent numbers I could find (from a 2002 New York Times article) suggest that though the number of uninsured women is rising more rapidly than that of uninsured men, there are still more men without insurance.

How such numbers end up in leading to more preventable deaths among women, I don't know. But I couldn't help noticing the parallels between this study and the recent rankings on gender parity; in the area of "health and survival" the U.S. was ranked a pathetic 36 out of 128 countries, and France was ranked No. 1.

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Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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