WOMEN’S HEALTH: Survey Finds Progress, Setbacks
State health officials yesterday released the first statewide survey of women's health. The California Women's Health Survey found that breast cancer screening has increased but that problems persist with hunger, knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and access to mental health care. The survey found that 73% of women over the age of 40 have annual mammograms, up from 38% ten years ago. One in 10 women reported they had gone hungry during the previous month. Of these women, almost half are ages 18-34, and "African American and Latino women were more than twice as likely as Asian and white women to be at risk of hunger." State Health Services Director Kim Belsh said, "That is a troubling finding in an environment where we have tremendous federal resources," such as the federal Women, Infants and Children nutritional program. Obtaining mental health care is also a challenge for some women, as the survey found that in 1996 of the 21% of women who wanted such care, only half received it. Stephen Mayberg, director of State Mental Health, said, "We need to find out how to increase access to mental health services before they end up in our system in crisis." The Sacramento Bee notes that outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a bill earlier this year "that would have required health plans to cover mental health care" (see CHL 9/30).
The Sacramento Bee reports that while most women were aware of chlamydia, only half knew that most infected women are asymptomatic. Dr. Gail Bolan, head of the state STD office, said, "Women are not going to know they are infected. We have got to do a better job of early diagnosis." The survey also found that Sacramento County "has the highest rate of chlamydia in the state." When questioned about reproductive health issues, the majority of respondents supported sex education in schools. Of those respondents at risk of unintended pregnancy, 70% said they used some form of birth control. The survey found that "[m]ost women who had recently been pregnant took advantage of the state-sponsored program for prenatal genetic screening for birth defects," but 42% of respondents had not heard of "folate, a mineral that helps prevent birth defects." More women reported gaining inappropriate amounts of weight during pregnancy "than previously thought, and 10% "reported having tried unsuccessfully for more than 12 months to get pregnant."
Roadmap For The New Governor
Belsh said, "We feel this survey is a helpful and appropriate transition document," one that Gov.-elect Gray Davis' (D) administration could use in addressing women's health needs. Michael Bustamante, Davis' spokesperson, echoed this hope, saying, "The data is interesting and something we will take a look at over the coming months as we begin to formulate policies." The women's health survey drew data from telephone interviews conducted in 1997. A total of 4,010 women were asked 200 questions about their health and ability to access care (Griffith, 11/11). Click women's health to read past CHL coverage of this issue.