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Economy Driving Women to Skimp on Health Care: Poll

And that can affect whole families, experts point out

TUESDAY, Dec. 2 (HealthDay News) -- A faltering economy is taking a toll not only on women's wallets but on their health as well, a new survey finds.

Women are cutting back on health care due to costs, according to a Harris Interactive poll released Tuesday by the National Women's Health Resource Center, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

That means their health and that of their families (since women usually take charge of household health matters) may be suffering, experts said.

More than 40 percent of the 754 adult women polled said their health had declined in the past year, with most citing stress and weight gain as the cause, said Beth Battaglino Cahill, executive director of the center, which is headquartered in Red Bank, N.J.

Some of the findings weren't surprising, she added. "More and more women are feeling the impact of stress," she said. "We know stress affects women's overall health. It can lead to weight gain and lead them to eat too much."

The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive online in late September and early October, is the fourth annual National Women T.A.L.K. survey, which explores issues involving women's health.

Among the other poll findings:

  • Almost half the women failed to seek medical care in the year before the survey, citing health care costs. They reported skimping on doctor visits, recommended medical procedures and medication, both for themselves and for family members.
  • Cultural differences emerged, with 58 percent of Hispanic women reporting they skipped health care, compared to 43 percent of white women and 42 percent of black women.
  • On the brighter side: Women seem to be coming to terms with aging, looking on it as an adventure or opportunity versus a struggle. To age well, many are taking action, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking.
  • Offered a list of celebrities over 50 as role models for aging, the women most admired Tina Turner, followed by Sophia Loren and Diane Keaton. They liked the fact that Turner has stayed active as she has grown older, remaining physically fit with a good attitude about aging.

The women surveyed also said they needed more information on many fronts in preparation for growing older.

Foremost, they said, was financial security. While 8 in 10 women felt prepared or very prepared in terms of emotional health, only 42 percent women feel prepared in terms of financial security, the poll results showed.

For Cahill, the bottom-line message to women from the poll findings is: "Save in other ways. Don't cut back on health care."

More information

For more on common health screening tests, visit the National Women's Health Resource Center.

Taking Care in Tough Times

A bad economy is no reason to ignore your health, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the Women's Heart Program at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Even in hard times, regular screenings are important," she said. "Basically, it's an investment in your health."

Catching medical problems early can save you in the long run, she added. For instance, if a doctor detects slightly elevated blood pressure, you might correct it by cutting back on salt and getting more exercise. That's healthier and cheaper than waiting until the pressure is so high you need medications, Goldberg said.

Other ways to save:

  • Ask your physician if a cheaper generic version of any medicine you need is available.
  • If you've lost your insurance, be aware that many medical clinics have a sliding scale. Ask your doctor, your county officials or city personnel for referrals.
  • Consider preparing more food on your own rather than turning to fast food. "That's the healthiest and may be cheaper," Goldberg said.
  • Look for sales in the grocery store as you would in other stores. Buy whichever healthy fruits and vegetable are on sale that week.

SOURCES: Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, R.N., executive director, National Women's Health Resource Center, Red Bank, N.J.; Nieca Goldberg, M.D., director, Women's Heart Program, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York City; September-October 2008, Harris Interactive survey

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