Changing definitions of women's health: implications for health care and policy

Matern Child Health J. 1997 Sep;1(3):179-89. doi: 10.1023/a:1026225513674.


Objectives: To present an overview of how and why normative conceptions of women's health are changing and to discuss some implications of definitional shifts in the context of the changing U.S. health care system.

Method: The paper describes the historical development of views of women's health and health care, contrasts the biomedical and biopsychosocial perspectives on women's health, and presents some evidence of challenges and opportunities for change in health care and policy.

Results: While women's health has generally been equated with reproductive functions, expanded definitions focus on health through the life span and in the context of women's multiple roles and diverse social circumstances. This expanded view highlights the limitations of health services and policy based on narrower conceptions and program mandates and the need for strategies for integrated, continuous care. There is evidence of change in women's health care, including in Title V programs.

Conclusions: New understandings of women's health are particularly relevant to maternal and child health programs, which are positioned to provide model approaches for improving women's health care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Care Reform
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Policy Making*
  • Quality of Health Care / standards*
  • United States
  • Women's Health Services / standards*
  • Women's Health*