by Sara Wilcox, Ph.D., and Marica L. Stefanick, Ph.D.

New research indicates that middle-aged and older women lack knowledge that is vital to making well-informed, health-related decisions. Heart disease and the most common forms of cancer in women increase with age. Yet a study published in the July issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) journal Health Psychology found that older women do not understand the risk of death associated with these diseases.

Psychologist Sara Wilcox, Ph.D., and physiologist Marcia L. Stefanick, Ph.D., surveyed 200 women (ages 41 to 95) and examined the participants' knowledge and perceived risk of coronary heart disease and breast, lung and colon cancer. Only 34 percent of older women knew that coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among women age 65 and older.

"Women over age 65 are as likely as men over age 65 to die from heart disease. Unfortunately, research indicates that women who experience heart attack symptoms are less likely than men to go to the emergency room," states Dr. Wilcox. "Women who understand the risk factors may be more likely to take preventive measures, recognize symptoms and seek treatments."

Major risk factors for heart disease in women include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, smoking, diabetes and obesity.

The researchers not only discovered that participants underestimated their personal risk of developing heart disease, but they overestimated the lethality of breast cancer compared with lung and colon cancer. The women also underestimated the potential to control the course of breast and colon cancer.

Article - "Knowledge and Perceived Risk of Major Diseases in Middle-Aged and Older Women," Sara Wilcox, Ph.D., and Marica L. Stefanick, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine, Health Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 4.

Sara Wilcox can be reached at (336) 716-5046


The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


Please help support our SelfhelpMagazine mission
so that we may continue serving you.
Choose your
support amount here: