Although 20 years have passed since the government instituted legislation requiring adequate female representation in medical studies, a recent study finds that a significant sex and gender gap still persists in medical research.

“Sex-Specific Medical Research: Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait” by researchers at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Jacobs Institute at George Washington University Hospital finds that scientists still fail to account for differences between males and females. This discrepancy persists through all stages of research and affects the ability of general practitioners to provide proper care to women.

According to Dr. Paula Johnson, one of the authors of the report, studies either fail to include enough women or fail to break down the results by sex. This is particularly problematic because diseases and medications impact men and women differently. “The science that informs medicine routinely fails to consider the impact of sex and gender, and this occurs at some of the earliest stages of research — from animal to human studies,” said Johnson.

In response to this report, presented at the Women’s Health Summit in Boston on Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren has publicly stated her intention to push for new laws that would create greater oversight for federal agencies and ensure greater representation of women in medical research. She aims to mandate that the number of women represented in a study is proportional to the number who have the disease.

Feminist scholars and advocates in the 1970s and 80s had pointed out that women (and even female animals) were excluded from most clinical studies and lobbied for a change in the prevailing practice. When this medical research gender gap gained public recognition, women’s health advocates, feminist activists and scholars, and women members of Congress fought hard for change. In a hard won victory, President Bill Clinton signed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act of 1993, mandating that women and minorities be included in clinical studies funded by the NIH. The FDA also reversed a policy that women of childbearing age could not be in clinical trials for drug approval, and the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established women’s health offices in 1994, as reported by Mary Jane Horton in the Ms. magazine Winter/Spring 2014 issue.

Media Resources: Brigham and Women’s Hospital 2014; Boston Herald 3/4/14; The State Column 3/4/14; Fox News 3/3/14; National Institutes of Health; Ms. Magazine Blog 3/3/14

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