Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Women often outlive men but in poorer health: what new Lancet study says


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Lancet Report;

Mains level: Women Issues in Indian Society; Health Issues;

Why in the news?

Over 30 years, a study examining 20 diseases revealed minimal advancements in narrowing the disparity between genders as per “the Lancet Public Health Journal”.

What does the New Lancet report say?

  • On Health Disparities: The study highlights that women tend to suffer more from lower back pain, depression, and headaches, while men have shorter life expectancies due to higher rates of road accidents, cardiovascular diseases, and, recently, COVID-19.
  • On Health Burden: Women spend more time in poor health, while men are more likely to die prematurely from severe conditions.
  • Overall Global Analysis: The analysis examines differences in the 20 leading causes of illness and death globally, considering all ages and regions.

What Causes the Differences in Diseases Between Women and Men? (Observations)

  • Biological Factors:
      • Hormonal Differences: Hormonal fluctuations in women, such as during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause, can influence susceptibility to certain conditions like migraines, depression, and autoimmune diseases.
      • Genetic Variations: Variations in genes and genetic predispositions may contribute to differences in disease susceptibility and severity between sexes.
      • Anatomical Variances: Physiological differences, such as in skeletal structure and hormonal regulation, can affect the manifestation of certain diseases like lower back pain and reproductive disorders.
  • Societal and Gender Norms:
      • Healthcare-Seeking: Societal norms and gender roles may influence healthcare-seeking behaviors, with men often less likely to seek medical attention for mental health issues due to perceived notions of masculinity.
      • Occupational Hazards: Occupational differences between genders can lead to varying exposures to health risks, with certain professions associated with higher rates of injury or exposure to harmful substances.
      • Socioeconomic Factors: Disparities in socioeconomic status can impact disease prevalence and outcomes differently for women and men.
  • Healthcare System Bias:
      • Diagnostic Bias: Gender biases in healthcare may result in underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis of certain conditions in women, leading to delays in treatment and poorer health outcomes.
      • Treatment Disparities: Differences in treatment approaches and responses may exist between sexes, with women sometimes receiving less aggressive treatment for cardiovascular diseases or being undertreated for pain conditions.
      • Research Bias: Historically, medical research has often focused on male subjects, leading to a lack of understanding of how diseases manifest and progress differently in women.
  • No Improvement in Care for Women Over Time
    • Stable Gender Gap: Despite overall health improvements, the disparity between male and female health conditions remains stable.
    • Conditions Affecting Women: Conditions like lower back pain and depressive disorders have shown little to no decrease over time compared to male-dominated conditions.
    • Reproductive Focus: Global health systems have historically focused on women’s reproductive health, neglecting other significant health issues affecting women.

What Needs to Be Done (Way Forward)

  • Better Data Collection: Governments should consistently collect and categorize health data by sex and gender to better understand and address health disparities.
  • Targeted Health Interventions: Specific health interventions should be developed and implemented based on detailed sex and gender data.
  • Increased Funding: More financial resources should be allocated to underfunded conditions that disproportionately affect women, such as mental health.
  • Addressing Healthcare Bias: Efforts should be made to eliminate biases in healthcare to ensure women receive appropriate and timely treatment for their conditions.

Mains PYQ: 

Q Can the vicious cycle of gender inequality, poverty and malnutrition be broken through microfinancing of women SHGs? Explain with examples. (UPSC IAS/2021)

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