How do women shape up as we mark Women’s Health Week?

How do women shape up as we mark Women’s Health Week?

By Cassandra Charlesworth

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, sometimes it’s easy to let the basics slide, particularly when it comes to health and wellbeing.

If that sounds like you, this week is Women’s Health Week, an important opportunity to reflect on our wellbeing and take some time out to tend to our physical and mental health.

It’s also the chance to note some interesting women’s health statistics, while looking to the improvements we can make.

As we walk, run or Zumba our way into Women’s Health Week, here’s what you need to know…

A bit about women

The latest Census figures indicate there were 12.1 million women in Australia in June 2016. That means we comprise a bit over half the population (50.3%).

Most females (66%) are younger than 50 and 16% are aged 65 or over. Our median age is 38.3 years, which is slightly higher than the blokes (36.5 years).

Our average life expectancy is 84.4 years, which is also slightly longer than the gents, who come in at 80.4.

Some women’s health statistics

In 2016, the leading cause of death for women was Alzheimer’s disease, followed by coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, lung cancer and then, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

That said, in 2014-15 one in two women reported living with a chronic disease, with 52% of females reported as having one or more of eight selected chronic diseases. Of those, mental health was the biggest factor.

·       19.2 per cent of women with chronic disease noted they suffered mental and behavioural problems.

·       18.6 per cent had cardiovascular disease

·       18.3 per cent had arthritis

·       16.2 per cent had back problems

·       11.8 per cent reported asthma

·       4.6 per cent had diabetes

·       2.6 per cent had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

·       1.5 per cent had cancer 

How much exercise?

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare notes women require an average of 150 minutes exercise a week.

In 2014–15, just under half (46%) of women aged 18–64 made that benchmark.

Exercise rates were highest among women aged 25–34 (51%) and lowest among women aged 55–64 (41%).

Only one in 4 (23%) women aged 65 and over were sufficiently active.

Risky business

Along with a lack of exercise, obesity and alcohol consumption present some of our greatest risk factors.

Alcohol is a known precursor to a variety of health problems, including liver and heart conditions, and poor mental health, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare notes that in 2016, 10% of women (ages 18+) were lifetime risky drinkers.

This means they had an accumulated risk from drinking either on many occasions, or on a regular basis (like daily) over a lifetime.

About three in ten women aged 18 and over (29%) also exceeded the single occasion risky drinking threshold at least once in the last 12 months, meaning they consumed more than four standard drinks in a single sitting.

In 2014–15, almost six in 10 women in Australia (56%) were overweight or obese: 29% were overweight, and 27% were obese.

Some interesting thoughts

Women’s Health Week is an initiative of the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health foundation.

This year they surveyed 15,000 Australian women to reveal some results that reflect the evidence above. Their survey found:

  • 50.8% of surveyed women describe themselves as overweight or obese
  • 9.5% of women drink daily
  • 46.1% of surveyed women have been diagnosed with depression of anxiety by a doctor or psychologist
  • 66.9% of women reported feeling nervous, anxious or on edge nearly every day or on more than seven days in the past few weeks.

The final diagnosis

The upshot is, we could be doing better, and small daily actions add up to reduce the risk of chronic and terminal illness in women.

This week might be just the right prompt to limit those drinks, get up and get moving, and seek the emotional support many of us need.


Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her loungeroom floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.

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