Evidence from the past 20 years has confirmed the importance of taking a whole-of-life approach, preventing the accumulation of health risk factors.
The establishment of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health in 1995 has been a major advancement towards improving the evidence base on Australian women’s health. This initiative has been funded as part of the response to the 1989 National Women’s Health Policy.
The aim of the study is to collect scientifically valid information that is relevant to the development of health policy, so that government can base policy and practice in women’s health on current data and accurate information to address health issues of Australian women of all ages.
The three age cohorts of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health allow for the study to examining women’s health and wellbeing across the lifespan. At the commencement of the study these cohorts contained young (aged 18–22 years), middle-aged (45–49 years) and older aged (70–74 years) women.
Life stage is one of the key themes of the study. It aims to identify factors that help women to maintain the highest level of health and quality of life following key events such as birth of first child, divorce, menopause, widowhood, major illness, moving house, changing job, falls and fractures in the elderly, dementia and bereavement.
Other themes that the study assesses include:
- physical and emotional health (including wellbeing, major diagnoses, symptoms);
- use of health services (general practitioner, specialist and other visits, access, satisfaction);
- health behaviours and risk factors (diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, other drugs);
- time use (including paid and unpaid work, family roles and leisure); and
- sociodemographic factors (location, education, employment, family composition).
Using the evidencePolicies and programs should be designed to address health throughout women’s lives, without forgetting that every woman is an individual.
Different health issues can become prominent at different times in a woman’s life; therefore it is important to design age-appropriate health services and care, and provide targeted information and health promotion materials.
The government is committed to continue to build on the evidence base and proposes:
2.1 Exploring opportunities for the Australian Women's Longitudinal Health Study to create a new younger women's cohort.
2.2 Encouraging researchers and academics to consider gender and lifestage projects.