Published Papers - Abstract 10

Brown WJ, Ball K & Powers J. Is life a party for young women? ACHPER Healthy Lifestyles Journal, 1998; 45(3): 21-26

Baseline data for the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (now known as the Women's Health Australia or WHA project) were collected from women in three age groups (18 - 23; 45 - 50; 70 - 75) in 1996. The project aims to explore how changes in biological, psychological, social and lifestyle factors impacted over time on women's physical and emotional health. Participants in the study were randomly selected from the Health Insurance Commission/Medicare data base, and represented women from all walks of life, from every State and Territory of Australia. This paper focuses on lifestyle variables, as well as causes of, and methods of coping with stress, in the young cohort (N=14600). The most common causes of stress in this group were money, study and work/employment issues, and the most common method of coping was talking to a good friend. Almost 20% of the cohort reported eating (more or less) as a method of coping with stress, and 17% reported using exercise as a stress reduction strategy. One third of the cohort were current smokers and almost one fifth reported binge drinking (more than five drinks) at least weekly. More than 60% of the sample reported more than one health 'risk' characteristic and multiple risks were associated with decreased physical and mental health scores on the Medical Outcomes Survey (MOS Short Form, SF-36) Health profile. Mental health scores were very low for women who reported unhealthy eating practices and high levels of stress, and for women who reported three or more risk characteristics (33% of the cohort).The data provide insight into levels of stress and strategies for coping with stress in young women. Associations between high stress levels, poorer mental health and multiple risk behaviours suggest that life is not a party for many young women in the transition between adolescence and adulthood. The findings, which will be the focus of future work in this longitudinal study, have implications for health education and health promotion programs for young women.