In 1986, the Medical Women’s Federation approached the Office of Health Economics with the suggestion that an overview of women’s health would be timely. It was considered opportune, not simply because the MWF is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year – furthermore, OHE itself is currently embarked on its 25th year of studying health care issues – but, more importantly, as a means of stimulating further interest in women’s health. In particular, as discussion of the topic extends into ever wider territory, it is important to identify and not lose sight of those issues that are clearly of central concern.

This report firmly establishes the nature of contemporary mortality and morbidity profiles among women. As greater equality between the sexes has been achieved in terms of education and employment opportunities, women have also acquired similar lifestyle patterns to men. Diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer of the lung can, therefore, no longer be seen as problems of the male sex alone. It is also clear that individual behaviour regarding cigarette smoking, diet, alcohol consumption and exercise is an important determinant of many other diseases experienced by women. Consequently, considerable potential exists for improving the health of women through the successful implementation of initiatives in disease prevention and health promotion.

The booklet highlights the importance of taking the broad view of women’s health and including all illnesses, not just those (such as cervical and breast cancer) which are seen as ‘women’s diseases’. Clearly, it would be a mistake to concentrate solely on diseases specific to women as this ignores more fundamental health problems suffered by women as well as men. It is essential to focus on those illnesses which result from social, environmental and lifestyle patterns that are potentially preventable.

Anyone interested in improving women’s health will find this paper a mine of valuable information. The report draws attention to many major areas of concern and identifies issues which require further action and research. Prominent among those clearly requiring more extensive investigation are the observed differentials in health by occupational and socio-economic grouping. The Office of Health Economics is to be congratulated on setting the scene for constructive debate by the publication of this important paper.