Girl power shines in research

School of Public Health Research Development Manager Kate Gadenne shares the six most powerful things she took away from the recent Women's health: from cradle to grave presentations. 

Six powerful things I took away from a multi-generational presentation by five of UQ’s most inspiring female researchers

I’m a female staff member at The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health. Last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to attend an event that brought together four generations of some of our most outstanding female researchers to share their knowledge on women’s health.

Professor Gita Mishra, Dr Ingrid Rowlands, Dr Katrina Moss, Dr Leigh Tooth and Professor Annette Dobson hail from our Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Research. With more than 70,000 Australian women dying prematurely of non-communicable diseases every year, each spoke in turn about the importance of taking a comprehensive view of women’s health across the lifespan to understand the factors that place women at risk, and how we can work to reduce this disease burden.

The Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health is one of a number of landmark studies conducted by the Centre for Longitudinal and Life Course Research. Their work in this study has fundamentally changed what we know about the health of Australian women across four generations.

As I watched each of these remarkable women take the stage and talk in turn about the impact of non-communicable diseases on women; the burden of endometriosis, mental health, and caring duties; and how little we know about dementia - it empowered me to reconsider my own attitude to my health and that of my mother, sister and daughters. I took away six powerful messages I’d like to share.

Number one. What I do matters not only for my own health, but that of my daughters and future generations.

Professor Gita Mishra kicked off the evening with an eye-opening snapshot of the four generations of Australian women who have contributed to the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health. In comparing factors relating to health across the generations of women in the study, I was amazed to learn that each generation of Australian women is fatter than the generation before. This made me reflect on the way my mother fed me and my sister when we were children, and how portion sizes and access to discretionary foods have gradually increased over the years. It also prompted me to take stock of my own eating and exercise habits and the importance of teaching good habits to my daughters as they navigate their adolescence and emerge into adulthood. After all, what we do now clearly has an impact – not only across the lifespan of an individual, but across the generations.

Number two. I learned not to suffer in silence.

Until last night, I didn’t know the symptoms of endometriosis, and that I had most of them. I didn’t know that doctors often don’t understand the disease, that it takes up to 12 years for women to be diagnosed, and that the only definitive method for diagnosis currently, is surgery. It made me reflect that I expect my doctor to understand more when I mention heavy, painful periods, and that I should be more proactive in seeking further investigation. Worse still, my own daughters have suffered these symptoms and I have often dismissed them as being normal for women in our family. It made me reconsider my approach to my health and to be a more active participant in seeking information to prompt my doctor to act further. It also made me very grateful for researchers like Dr Ingrid Rowland and her passion for highlighting a problem impacting a large percentage of Australian women and costing our economy over $7 billion every year.

Number three. If more is done to help women address the symptoms of depression before they have children, the behaviour and development of their children is likely to benefit.

Thanks to Dr Katrina Moss, I learned that short bouts of depression either pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy or during the early years of childhood are unlikely to impact children’s wellbeing. However, their work has shown that long-term depression suffered throughout these phases of early life for a child, can have a cumulative impact and negatively influence a child’s development and behaviour. Having recently been diagnosed with depression, I fought against the stigma of putting my hand up for help, but feel glad that it might inspire my own daughters to feel okay about seeking help whenever they need it – for their sake, and for the sake of the children they choose to have one day.

Number Four. Women who care need looking after too.

Australian has over 2.7 million carers, the majority being women. By virtue of their gender, women are more commonly placed in the caring role, looking after grandchildren, providing care for parents or elderly family members, caring for children, or caring for a frail spouse. Sometimes women are providing multiple types of care at different stages of their lives – caring for children and elderly parents at the same time. These women have poorer health, lower income and higher health service use as a result. Having elderly parents and teenage children, I well understand this situation and feel grateful I have a sister to share this load. I’m grateful Dr Leigh Tooth is highlighting this issue and hope the work she is doing in this area will result in better recognition and support for the hidden work performed by carers that is so valuable in our community.

Number Five. We know very little about how women are impacted by dementia.

It seems that every time I turn on the news, I’m hit by stories about dementia and potential new breakthroughs in determining its causes and possible treatments. But until I heard Professor Annette Dobson speak, I didn’t know that dementia is now the second most common cause of death in Australia, with higher prevalence in women than men largely due to women’s longer life expectancy. I was also alarmed to learn that Australian statistics on the numbers and prevalence rates are actually very poor and are largely drawn from overseas data.  With dementia and treatment services thought to exceed $15 billion ever year, the work of Annette and her team will be vital to determine the true cost of the condition and the factors contributing to its incidence. Given our ageing population, this information will be vital to ensure our services are geared to cope with dementia in the future. 

Number Six. I might not be a researcher, but I can still play a part in women’s health research.

After listening to the presentation of these five powerful, tenacious, passionate and dedicated female researchers, I left feeling that I’d like to play my part too. So I’m opening my heart and my wallet and doing my bit to improve the health of Australian women with a donation to the new School of Public Health Scholarship Program.

My gift will make it possible to nurture a whole new generation of researchers like the five wonderful women I heard tonight. It will also help to ensure my daughters can look forward to a healthier future, and my mother can age with grace, safe in the knowledge our health system is equipped to meet her needs.

If you’re like me and would like to donate to the School of Public Health Scholarship Program, visit: Select Choose a Giving Destination, School of Public Health, to ensure your donation is directed to the right place.


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