Washington Post

Healthy Distinctions

Phyllis Greenberger
The Washington Post
Saturday, May 25, 2002; Page A29

In "Feminism Hijacked" [op-ed, May 19], George F. Will takes aim at women's studies, citing factual errors in textbooks used to further a feminist political agenda. The Society for Women's Health Research would like to correct some of Will's own factual errors regarding the inclusion of women in medical research studies.

Will states, "Women are 60 percent of all subjects in National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trials." Will's data come from a 2001 study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and relate to the aggregate number of women and men in NIH-funded extramural research. But the GAO report also states that when female-only and male-only studies were excluded from its review, the proportion of women enrolled in extramural research projects was 52.1 percent -- proportional to the percent of women in the general population. For intramural protocols, women made up 49.6 percent of study participants.

The GAO's report was a follow-up to two previous reports: a 1985 U.S. Public Health Service report on women's health issues, which concluded: "The historical lack of research focus on women's health concerns has compromised the quality of health information available to women as well as the health care they receive"; and a 1990 GAO report, which stated: "Although the original policy announcement [regarding the inclusion of women in clinical trials] encouraged researchers to analyze study results by gender, NIH officials have taken little action to implement this element of the policy."

We now know that important biological differences between men and women can influence how a disease manifests, how safe and effective a drug is and how meaningful prevention efforts will be for specific populations. These findings have led to better health care for both women and men. This progress will continue as researchers and health advocates focus on understanding important sex differences in human health and are not caught in an unproductive "us vs. them" debate.

-- Phyllis Greenberger
The writer is president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company