Summarising the Biomedical Research on Health & Performance of Military Women

Research Paper Title

Biomedical Research on Health and Performance of Military Women: Accomplishments of the Defense Women’s Health Research Program (DWHRP).

Abstract

In 1994, the US Congress provided US$40 million for biomedical research on issues of importance for military women.

This supported 104 intramural and 30 extramural studies and launched an era of research to narrow the knowledge gap on protection and enhancement of health and performance of military women.

Projects addressed issues specific to:

  • Female physiology (e.g., gynecological health in the field, maternal malaria);
  • Problems with higher prevalence for women (e.g., marginal iron deficiency, stress fracture); and
  • Issues of drug and materiel safety that had only been extrapolated from studies of men (e.g., chemical agent prophylaxis, fatigue countermeasures).

Several important assumptions about female physiology and occupational risks were found to be astoundingly wrong:

  • Hormonal changes through the menstrual cycle were less important to acute health risks and performance than predicted;
  • Exercise did not increase risk for amenorrhea and consequent bone mineral loss; and
  • Women tolerated G-forces and could be as safe as men in the cockpit if their equipment was designed for normal size and strength ranges.

Data on personal readiness issues, such as body fat, physical fitness, nutrition, and postpartum return to duty, allowed reconsideration of standards that were gender appropriate and not simply disconnected adjustments to existing male standards.

Other discoveries directly benefited men as well as women, including development of medical surveillance databases, identification of task strength demands jeopardising safety and performance, and greater understanding of the effects of psychosocial stress on health and performance.

This surge of research has translated into advances for the welfare of servicewomen and the readiness of the entire force; relevant gender issues are now routine considerations for researchers and equipment developers, and some key remaining research gaps of special importance to military women continue to be investigated.

You can read the full article here: Biomedical Research on Health & Performance of Military Women – Accomplishments of the DWHRP (Friedl, 2005).

Reference

Friedl, K.E. (2005) Biomedical Research on Health and Performance of Military Women: Accomplishments of the Defense Women’s Health Research Program (DWHRP). Journal of Women’s Health. 14(9), pp.764-802.

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