On average and throughout the world women have longer life expectancies than men and life expectancies for both men and women are continuing to lengthen. That is the good news. The bad news is that women’s life expectancy is not increasing as quickly as men’s and the gap in life expectancy between women in rich and poor countries is widening. Due to great improvements in maternal health women are living longer all over the world and older women represent a large portion of the population. By 2050, it is predicted the women over 50 will represent, almost a fifth, 19% of the global population.[i] Stevens, Mathers, and Beard (2013) discuss these trends in the WHO September Bulletin in the article “Global mortality trends and patterns in older women.” The WHO devoted the entire issue to the importance of addressing non-reproductive health issues for women.
What I found very striking about this article is that women over age 50 in developing countries are dying from similar causes of death as women in developed countries, however, in developing countries they are dying sooner. Stevens, Mathers, and Beard discuss the importance of using and improving health systems to address these needs. Additionally, health education and preventative care will be important components of success.
Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are causing many of the deaths in women over 50 but in high-income countries these deaths are occurring later in life. Stevens, Mathers, and Beard question if these earlier deaths are related to increased stress and environmental factors in the low and middle income countries or decreased early detection and care in these countries.1 Most likely a combination of these issues is contributing to the differences in life expectancies. The WHO has developed a non-communicable disease action plan that would address these inequalities and health concerns for women over 50. Some particular actions in the plan that would benefit women in all countries are conducting needs assessments, strengthening national programs, and developing national plans and budgets to reduce deaths from noncommunicable diseases.[ii] I also believe an increased use of health advocates or health coaches would greatly benefit women over 50. The advocates could educate women and monitor exercise and eating patterns that can prevent cardiovascular disease. The advocates could also monitor early signs and treatments for the diseases. The close follow up could increase accountability of the patients and better their health outcomes.
In developed countries many education and early detection and treatment programs have already lessened the death rates from cardiovascular disease and diabetes among women over 50.[iii] These countries need to continue to build upon that success and developing countries need to assess their current states and implement these successful strategies that are detailed in the WHO NCD Action Plan to improve the lives of millions of women over 50.
[i] Stevens, G. A., Mathers, C. D., & Beard, J. R. (2013). Global mortality trends and patterns in older women. WHO Bulletin.http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/91/9/12-109710/en/index.html
[ii] WHO Noncommunicable Disease Action Plan for 2013-2020 http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/ncd_action_plan/en/
[iii] Science Daily. (2013). Health of Older Women in Developed Countries Continues to Improve: Gap With Developing Countries Grows. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130902102013.htm