The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is #EmbraceEquity. Gender equity involves recognising the differences in needs between groups and providing the necessary resources and opportunities for all to thrive.
Gender biases and inequalities have been reported in healthcare. Women are more often underdiagnosed and undertreated for a variety of health conditions. In addition, female-specific health conditions, such as menstrual disorders, have long been lower priorities than other conditions in medical research, while training for healthcare professionals can be inconsistent. This isn’t going unnoticed by women: 87% of women agree that women’s health issues need to be taken more seriously by doctors.
This IWD, we take a look at the health challenges women face, their health priorities and how brands can support these, as well as shining a light on the perimenopause and menopause.
What physical and mental health challenges do women face?
Women face a number of physical health challenges. Some are experienced by the whole population such as obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers. Many others, though, are specific to females. Menstrual and gynecological disorders, for example endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can have serious impacts on a woman’s physical and mental health.
Our research shows that women report poorer mental health than men and are likely to report being affected by a greater number of stress factors. Finances are the most highly reported cause of stress for women, while concerns around body image, mental health, relationships and work affect many women too. Body image worries are particularly concerning among women aged 18-24, reflecting the pressure on young women and girls to meet socially-constructed beauty standards.
What are women’s health priorities and how can brands support these?
Our research shows women have three key areas of health that they are focusing on:
1. Getting enough sleep
Sleep is overwhelmingly the top priority for women, just as it is for men. Seven in ten women say it’s most important that they get enough sleep. Interest in sleep and sleep-wellness has risen in recent years as consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of sleep for their overall health and wellbeing. The increasing ability to track our sleep – on our smartphones, smartwatches and on apps (such as SleepScore and Sleep Cycle) means that consumers are more clued up than ever before. Sleep-optimising products are on the rise too, from supplements, to pillow sprays and smart mattresses.
The premenstrual phase is associated with poorer sleep in women, while sleep disturbances are a common symptom of the perimenopause and menopause. Sleep-tracking technologies and apps can support women to have better sleep through simultaneously tracking the menstrual cycle. Women will then be able to have a better understanding of how their sleep is impacted by hormone fluctuations throughout their cycle and receive tailored advice on how to adjust their sleep habits to improve sleep quality.
2. Eat healthily
Over six in ten women are focusing on eating healthily. Positively, there has been a shift in recent years away from messaging around healthy eating centring solely around weight-loss, and towards a focus on the benefits of a nutritious diet on a person’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
There is, however, an overload of health information available to women – from what diet to follow and which food groups to eliminate, to what time of the day to eat. Brands need to cut through the noise and provide easy-to-follow, evidence-based advice on healthy eating alongside setting attainable goals. The success of the NHS Couch to 5K app demonstrates how simple initiatives can be effective. Healthy eating advice needs to be accessible too, particularly during the current income squeeze, by using every-day ingredients that don’t cost a fortune.
Source: App Store – NHS
3. Manage stress
Half of women say it is most important that they manage stress. Women have a long list of anxieties and brands should provide tangible support on the issues most concerning them, with finances, body image and mental health coming out on top.
Financial services providers are best-placed to help bridge the financial health gap between men and women by creating an inclusive financial environment and educating women on saving, investing and financial planning. For example, Fidelity’s Women and Money programme aims to empower women to make better financial decisions and achieve financial security.
In addition, Headspace launched its Women’s Collection in August 2022 which provides guided meditations and resources on topics such as body image, mindful sex and reproductive health. Brands across multiple sectors can also play their part in easing body image pressures on young women through more diverse and inclusive advertising, limiting editing/retouching on social media platforms and promoting messages of self-acceptance.
How can brands support women through the perimenopause and menopause?
The perimenopause is the transitional period before the menopause (the 12 month point since a woman’s last period) when a woman starts to experience menstrual and hormonal changes. There is a wide range of possible symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause including: hot flushes, mood changes, loss of libido and memory problems.
Every woman’s experience is individual, though, and the taboo surrounding the perimenopause and menopause means women can suffer in silence for years before accessing the right treatment.
The tide is slowly starting to change though. Increasing pressure from women, activists, and medical professionals is having some success, and the perimenopause and menopause are finally gaining more public, media and political attention. Health retailers have been pivotal in bringing support for perimenopausal and menopausal women out in the open. In 2022, Boots became the first pharmacy to sell Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) over-the-counter and launched its No 7 menopause skincare range, which was co-created with menopausal women to ease symptoms such as dry skin. Holland & Barrett also launched a menopause support service for women online and in-store with trained advisors.
UK retailer Boots launched a menopause hub on its website to support consumers. Source: Boots
Beyond products and services that ease symptoms of the perimenopause and menopause, brands should continue to break down taboos and show solidarity with women. Brands can contribute to better and earlier education of the perimenopause to empower women to seek help, as well as support wider public education campaigns to bring awareness to the serious and varied impact these changes can have on women’s health.
What we think
It is undisputed among women that their health issues have been sidelined for too long which is adding to the inequalities they face in healthcare, in society and at work. Brands need to address women’s physical and mental health priorities, and tailor health products and services to women’s specific needs. On top of this, brands across multiple sectors can help shine a light on women’s health issues, such as menstrual disorders, the perimenopause and menopause, that have for too long been misunderstood and ignored.