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Older women face more, different social health risk factors than men

08/08/2019

Elena ByhoffOlder women are more likely than their male peers to have a higher number of social risk factors that negatively impact their health, according to a new research led by Primary Care Physician Elena Byhoff, MD. Women over 70 were also found to face different social risk factors compared to men of a similar age group. The study, “Gender Differences in Social and Behavioral Determinants of Health in Aging Adults,” was published on the Journal of General Internal Medicine website on August 5, 2019.

The study analyzed national reference data of 6,113 respondents to assess the differences in social and behavioral health risk factors (known as social determinants of health) for men and women as they age. The results showed that men and women have the same average number of social determinants of health (3) over the course of their lives, but widening rates of gender-related risk factors as they age. Older women were more likely to be low income, depressed and unpartnered; older men were more likely to be smokers.

“Older women were much likelier to have more and different social determinants of health than men. There is a significantly higher proportion of older women with three or more risk factors,” said Dr. Byhoff. “While younger men and women have a similar prevalence of comparable social struggles, men tend to age out of them while women do not.”

Dr. Byhoff hypothesizes that life expectancy – currently about 4.5 years longer for American women than men – may be a key factor, as women are more likely to outlive their partners. Women also have lower average lifetime earnings than men.

“This study shows that every patient may not have the same social health risks at the same time,” said Dr. Byhoff. “With more tailored, targeted social and clinical intervention, we may be able to ask better questions and use clinic time more wisely to more effectively improve the health and quality of life of older women.”