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International Women’s Day: Women’s health research in PLOS Medicine

On International Women’s Day 2016, PLOS Medicine takes a look at some recent articles covering on women’s health topics.

Research in our January issue from our Specialty Consulting Editor Alex Tsai and colleagues demonstrates a bidirectional link between intimate partner violence and depression among pregnant and post-partum women. The study’s 3-year longitudinal design enabled the authors to regress depression against lagged IPV, and IPV against lagged depression, thus demonstrating that each predicts future occurrence of the other. Data were collected as part of a Mentor Mothers trial in Cape Town, South Africa; findings were strengthened by the study’s 85% retention rate and regression models adjusting for potentially confounding time-fixed and time-varying covariates including education, household assets, and participant employment, health status, and alcohol abuse. To our knowledge this is the first population-based longitudinal study to describe the association between IPV and depression in sub-Saharan Africa, where rates of IPV are among the highest in the world.

The same week we also featured research from Catherine Lombard and colleagues, who reported promising results from a pragmatic cluster-randomized controlled trial of HeLP-her, a self-management lifestyle intervention intended to prevent weight gain among women aged 18 to 50 living in rural Australia. The intervention, which impacted weight gain at 1 year at all levels of BMI, was low intensity—it consisted of one group information session with simple health messages, a program manual to facilitate personalized weight gain prevention, monthly reminder text messages, and one 20-minute personal phone coaching session. A difference of 1kg, as observed in the trial, matters little to each individual, but modelers channeling the late epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose have projected that equivalent weight gain prevention scaled across the U.S. population could prevent 2 million cases of diabetes, 1.5 cardiovascular diseases, and tens of thousands of cancers.

And in February, Marni Sommer and colleagues highlighted the issue of poor menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), and its contribution to inequities and impact on education and health. In this Health in Action piece, Sommer and colleagues note the current lack of guidance, facilities, and materials available to allow schoolgirls to manage their menstruation in LMIC. And while knowledge of these challenges and the repercussions on women’s overall health has mounted over recent years, they note the paucity of evidence quantifying these challenges or their impact. Sommer and colleagues discuss the “MHM in Ten” initiative, which was organized by Columbia University and the United Nations Children’s Fund, and identified public health agenda priorities to reach the goal that “Girls in 2024 around the world are knowledgeable about and comfortable with their menstruation and able to manage their menses in school in a comfortable, safe, and dignified way.”

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