Stand-up comedy may not be the typical medium for delivering important messages, but Amy Schumer managed to make a profound point about the state of women’s health research. In her comedy special, Schumer shared her experience with a pregnancy condition called hyperemesis gravidarum and highlighted the lack of scientific knowledge surrounding it. This specific insight made me question whether men are aware of the existing research gaps in women’s health or if it remains an echo chamber. Fortunately, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden have taken notice of this issue and initiated the “first ever” White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. This initiative aims to bring together experts from various sectors to drive innovation, close research gaps, and prioritize women’s health.
Women have long been underrepresented in clinical trials, leading to significant research gaps in women’s health. It is crucial to note that women’s health encompasses more than just reproductive organs. Women are disproportionately affected by various conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and adenocarcinoma. Moreover, clinical presentations often differ for women, especially in the case of heart disease. The lack of targeted studies and understanding of these differences has resulted in misdiagnoses, mistreatment, and poor health outcomes for many women.
Rethinking Research Funding and Methods
To address the research gaps in women’s health, the White House initiative must start by recognizing that men and women differ at the cellular level. Approximately a third of genes are expressed differently in men and women, influencing clinical presentations, treatment options, and health outcomes. Erica Ollmann Saphire, president and CEO of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, emphasizes the importance of studying sex-based differences systematically to uncover causes and develop treatments that align with biology.
In the field of cardiology, neglecting these differences resulted in a delayed realization that women were dying from heart disease at higher rates than men. With over 60 million American women living with some form of heart disease, it is crucial to include women in cardiovascular disease clinical trials, where they currently represent only about one in five participants. The success of the White House initiative is essential for promoting women’s health and well-being, as it affects not only women but also public health and the economy.
Economic Benefits of Closing Research Gaps
Closing research gaps in women’s health not only improves individual health outcomes but also has significant economic benefits. The RAND Corporation’s Women Health Access Matters (WHAM) report emphasizes that women make up more than half of the population and workforce. Yet, they are more likely to be caregivers and make 80% of healthcare decisions while medical sciences underfund studies focused on women. Increasing investment in basic research on women’s health could lead to substantial returns that would capture the attention of Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
A 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report further highlights the economic potential of bolstering women’s health. If women were given equal opportunities to participate in the economy, the global GDP could increase by as much as $28 trillion, or 26%, by 2025. These numbers demonstrate the immense value in prioritizing and investing in women’s health research.
While the White House initiative focuses on women’s health, it is vital to emphasize that it is not solely a women’s issue. Men also play a crucial role in advocating for equity and representation in women’s health research. Their presence and support are necessary for long-lasting change. It is encouraging to see that the comedy world, represented by Amy Schumer, has already begun to address these issues. However, it is important to extend this dialogue to various spaces and ensure that men become outspoken and expert advocates for closing research gaps in women’s health.
The establishment of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research marks a vital step towards addressing the historical underrepresentation and underfunding of women in medical research. By prioritizing and closing research gaps in women’s health, we can improve health outcomes, reduce misdiagnoses and mistreatment, and drive economic growth. It is essential for men to actively join this conversation and become advocates for equity and representation. Through collective efforts and increased awareness, we can transform the landscape of women’s health research and create a more inclusive and effective healthcare system for all.