By Sarah Mapes
Over many decades and centuries, many things have changed about American families. One thing that hasnt is that when it comes to health and health care, women are in the drivers seat. In two-thirds of American households, women are the primary health care decision-makers. We are more likely to choose our familys health insurance plan. We ensure that our children get vaccines and regular check-ups, that our husbands take their heart pills and that our aging parents get appropriate long term care.
We account for 80 cents of every dollar spent at drugstores and do most of the scheduling of medical appointments for our loved ones. Theres even some evidence that female doctors are more effective in their attempts to ensure patient compliance.
Sometimes though, women put their own health last.
Colorado women are doing well generally at seizing opportunities for their own good health. When it comes to behaviors, like eating better and maintaining a healthy weight, our women outperform not only Colorado men, but women around the country.
Fewer than half of Colorado women are considered overweight or obese compared to 64 percent of Colorado men. Women smoke and binge drink less than men. They wear seatbelts more often. Some social factors like education contribute to better health, and in Colorado, women are more likely to attend college than men.
Colorado women are also leading the way in health insurance. Not only are more women than men insured in Colorado, but according to the Colorado Health Access Survey, of those who are uninsured, more women report that they understand how to purchase or enroll in coverage. Only 9 percent of uninsured women say they dont have health insurance because they dont need it, compared to 17 percent of uninsured men.
However, the data show that despite these efforts to achieve good health, there is still a great need to improve the health of Colorados women. While 14 percent of Colorado women are in fair or poor health overall, around 40 percent are having days of poor mental or physical health every month. Thats a substantial portion of the population that is facing physical and mental health challenges, and a larger percentage than that of men reporting similar health challenges.
Since choosing healthy behaviors and adequate insurance coverage are not enough to ensure that Colorados women are achieving their optimal health, it is important we work to understand and address what barriers remain.
Women who are healthy and able to access the care they need when they need it are better able to make health care choices for both themselves and for their families. Healthy women have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. They are able to focus on staying healthy through preventive care and screenings, and better protect the health of their whole family.
The role of men in health care decision-making is important, and certainly increasing, but as long as women are the main brokers of health care, as they are characterized by Dr. William Norcross, a family physician and researcher, its especially important that they have the necessary tools and resources to fulfill their dual roles as health care decision-makers and consumers.
While we are focused on womens health through the lens of breast cancer and other gynecologic cancers in October, let us also consider the overall importance of womens health on our families, communities and economy. Together we can ensure our mothers, daughters, sisters and ourselves have every opportunity to enjoy a healthy life.
Sarah Mapes is the director of communications at the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved.
Access the infographic at www.ccmu.org/women.