Published Papers - Abstract 34

Brown WJ, Dobson AJ, Bryson L & Byles JE. Women's Health Australia: On the progress of the main cohort studies. Journal of Women's Health and Gender-based Medicine, 1999; 8(5): 681-688

More than 41,000 women aged 18 - 23, 45 - 50 and 70 - 75 years in 1996 are participating in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (Women's Health Australia). Baseline surveys were conducted for all three cohorts in 1996, and the first follow-up survey of the mid-age group in 1998 has achieved a response rate exceeding 90%. The main findings so far reflect the large differences in the life experiences of the three cohorts. The young women report high levels of stress. The physical and mental health of those with young children is worse than for those without children, but confounding by sociodemographic characteristics may account for the differences. Two thirds of young women in the healthy weight or underweight range would like to weigh less, and early onset of dieting is associated with poorer physical and mental health. Most of the women in the mid-age group have multiple roles - in paid work, home duties and caring for children and other dependents. The potential of the study to investigate the long-term impact of such busy lives on health outcomes is considerable. At this stage the main health issues for these women relate to tiredness, weight gain and menopause. The older cohort presents a picture of positive aging. These women are heavier users of health services than the mid-age and younger women, and are also more satisfied with these services. Although their physical health is poorer, their mental health is better, and they report less stress than women in the other two cohorts. The follow-up survey of this group, planned for 1999, will focus on the coping strategies used by these women. An overall goal of the project is to understand the interactions among social roles, life events, and women's health in order to provide a basis for improved health policies and services. Analysis of these interactions, which relies on both quantitative and qualitative data, poses many challenges that will be addressed as the longitudinal data become available.