Several studies examining the relationship between gender and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were analyzed by international experts on 20 September at a conference taking place at the United Nations (UN) while authorities are involved in the High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Prevention and Control.
Studies presented at the event include one on the promotion physical activity among adolescents in Nicaragua, one on the prevention of diabetes in women in Mexico, and a similar case based in Trinidad and Tobago. The Minister of Health of Samoa, Dr. Leao Talalalelei, gave a presentation on a study which linked NCDs and risk factors with gender issues.
Men and women have different levels of exposure and vulnerability to NCDs. For instance, women are more likely to be obese than men. According to a study by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), 40% of women in Canada and 70% of women in Nicaragua and Belize are obese or overweight. Also, people of different genders use health services in different ways (women tend to utilize primary care centers more than men do). These data may help design policies to better prevent these diseases.
In Managua, capital of Nicaragua, at least 71% of women and 59% of men are overweight, 29% of women and 21% of men have hypertension, and 9% of the population has diabetes. The study in Nicaragua, said Katherine Rock, examined whether according to gender was more prone to physical inactivity among adolescents.
The study found that women engaged less in physical activity than men. It also found there was hardly space for women to participate in sports, either due to safety concerns or because of difficulty in accessing sports programs, as reported. Rock explained that the report suggested increasing the opportunities of sports in schools, providing education to eliminate gender stereotypes, and create safe spaces for female children and adolescents to participate in sports.
Dr. Aurora del Rio Zolezzi presented a study in Mexico on NCDs, such as diabetes, with focus on gender, as diabetes is among the leading causes of death among women. The study sought to show gender inequities associated with diabetes mortality in Mexico. She noted that although the prevalence was equal between men and women, the study found that there were more overweight women; although the disease could be detected earlier than before, it had no direct impact on women’s health.
Certain elements associated with gender contributed to this problem, said Dr. Del Rio. For example, physical activity is not perceived as feminine; and as women have to tend to family members, they do not have time to exercise or take care of their own health. He explained that there was a perception that housework was equivalent to exercise, whereas it was not. From this perspective, campaigns should be launched to target these issues and adapt their messages to the needs of women and men.
Dr. Yvonne Lewis shared the experience in Trinidad and Tobago, where we studied the differences and disparities between men and women in accessing health services. Now that they had identified the problems, he said, separate campaigns should be launched, one aimed at one gender and another according to the needs of each.
Commenting on the experience, Marijke Velzeboer-Salcedo, an expert on gender at PAHO, said that one of the issues still pending in the field of NCD studies was to obtain separate data by sex. She argued that information should be disaggregated by women and men, as well as girls and boys, in order to better focus on prevention.
Meanwhile, Ann Keeling of the International Diabetes Federation said that this meeting was the beginning of the beginning of issues related to NCDs and relations between NCDs and gender. She called to share best practices in this area with everyone.
Also participating on the panel were Mr. Ransford Smith of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and Dr. Carol Presern of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health. The event was organized by PAHO, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the NCD Alliance.
(Leticia Linn, PAHO/WHO)