GAO Report Reveals More Work Needed to Improve Women’s Health

By Susan Blumenthal, M.D. and Sarah Colon

As recently as two decades ago, women’s health was very much neglected in the halls of public policy, at the research bench, and in clinical settings. In 1990, a GAO Report revealed that only 13 percent of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget was spent on women’s health research and that data was not being adequately analyzed for sex and gender differences. These startling findings led to the passage of congressional legislation in 1993 requiring that women and minorities be included in clinical trials unless the study was sex specific (e.g., prostate cancer), and that studies be analyzed for sex differences. In that same year, a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Women’s Health position was established within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help rectify inequities in women’s health and to develop new cross-cutting initiatives across its agencies including NIH, CDC and FDA. I am honored to have served in this position and to have established programs including the National Centers of Excellence in Women’s Health program at academic centers around the country to foster interdisciplinary research, training, and education as well as promote the career development of women in medicine, the National Women’s Health Information Center (an information resource hub accessible at and through a toll-free telephone number), and to have appointed regional women’s health coordinators across the country, among other initiatives.

Why does a focus on women’s health matter? More than 51 percent of the U.S. population is female and women make 80 percent of medical decisions in families. Women use more medications and have higher rates of reported side effects than do men. They also seek more medical care, use more health services, spend more on medications than do men, and suffer greater disability —> Read More