One of the most pernicious ways of making business or policy decisions is without the use of data, assuming, “we would know” if it’s out there.
"Women’s health has been the victim of one such assumption." Limited data, limited conversations, taboos, have led to lack of focus when it comes to women health.
This year on Women’s Day,&Meconducted an online Women’s Health Project with 600 participants across 155 cities across India. Its aim was to bring a gender perspective on women’s health needs of the hour. We just concluded the analysis:
1. Widespread Micronutrient Deficiency in Urban Women
The study, across 20 - 35 year old women, 53% from Tier 1 cities, and 60% working professionals, revealed that: "75% women had Vitamin deficiency, followed by 50% with protein deficiency, and 31% with Iron deficiency!"
Vitamins and Minerals are micronutrients essential for normal cellular and molecular functions, growth and maintenance of body tissues. Micronutrients are also vital in regulating hormones and deficiencies can lead to increased chances of Thyroid, PCOS, irregular periods, Premenstrual symptoms, hairfall, acnes, and stress.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with Osteoporosis and Thyroid, Magnesium deficiency is associated with Period pain and mood swings during cycle, Vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with increased stress and anxiety.
The major component of an Indian diet consists of cereal/pulse-based foods, devoid of sufficient amounts of vegetables, fruits and dairy. These results are very important as they shift the focus to the serious consequences of micronutrient deficiency in hormonal health of women, which has largely been ignored till date.
2. One in three women have irregular period cycles
"Just above half the women in menstrual age reported regular period cycles!" .Regular period cycles are a sign of good health. Apart from the monthly waiting game, Irregular periods indicate hormonal imbalance and can lead to further problems, such as fertility issues, hairfall, increased anxiety among others. In our data, women with irregular periods also reported higher incidences of PCOS, Anemia, and Anxiety.
Lack of physical activity and nutritional deficiency are leading causes of these hormonal disorders. But due to the “tabooed” nature of the topic, the extent of these numbers get unreported and are little discussed in social circles. Many who themselves undergo irregular periods, as early as 20 years of age, seldom seek support, not realizing its complex manifestations on the overall health.
While menstrual hygiene as a topic has recently gained traction, it's critical we give menstrual health its due importance and not ignore the signs of menstrual pain, menstrual irregularity. It's imperative to have regular hormonal cycles, for overall good health of a woman, childbearing or otherwise.
3. Strong Awareness but inaction follows
The study also uncovered that even though 82% of the participants agreed that women have different nutrition needs vs men, this awareness is usually followed by inaction.
"90% women did not exhibit a specific cooking pattern." While traditionally our diets were varied in vegetables and multigrain rich, they have now succumbed to the limitations of time, and processed food. In the world obsessed with macronutrients, the essential 13 Vitamins and 16 minerals have lost focus. No doubt, it can get hard to micro plan the diets, with its variations needed for women, while there is a family to take care of and a business to manage.
4. Why addressing women’s health matters?
“Women’s health research is still very much in its infancy they are still purposefully and systematically excluded from clinical research, and there is no appreciation of sex differences. Even when data is collected on both men and women, sex disaggregated analysis is never done, so women’s health conditions are not studied in a nuanced manner."Dr Vivekanand Jha, Executive Director, The George Institute for Global Health quoted.
80% of the healthcare decisions of their families are taken by women, and thus, investing in women’s health is the key to building healthier families and communities. However, you can only invest, if you are aware of the gaps.
"Our learning: What “looks good”, might not be the reality. Vitamin Deficiency, and Hormonal Health concerns are widespread in Healthy Looking Urban Women." The results of the project got us closer to our women and helped us understand their needs better. We are excited to learn more and to positively shape the women’s health industry in the years to come.