Bedecked in an admiral's adornments, U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Susan Blumenthal addressed the past, present and future of women's health care Thursday at Moos Tower.
The University's National Center of Excellence in Women's Health presented the lecture, "Women's Health in the 21st Century: Opportunities and Challenges."
Blumenthal was one of the founding members of the National Center for Excellence in Women's Health, said Deborah Powell, dean of the University's Medical School.
"She is the mother of our center," Powell said.
Blumenthal spoke of her personal interest in pursuing medicine.
"I will never forget seeing skull and crossbones on the door, the radioactive warning," Blumenthal said of her mother's bout with cancer. "She was too hot to give a child a kiss."
Assessing the past status of women's health care, Blumenthal said research in the past was done primarily with men and then broadly applied to women because researchers did not appreciate gender differences.
"Even the rats they used in experiments were male," she said.
Blumenthal said she saw the gender neglect in her own education as well.
"We learned about the 180-pound male and his diseases, but not women," she said.
Despite advances in the last few decades, medical academia is still lacking women, she said. For example, 11 percent of tenured professors are women, she said.
Lifestyle and environmental health factors are the issue of the day for women's health, Blumenthal said. At least 50 percent of the 10 leading causes of death for women are based on behavioral, lifestyle and environmental factors.
The broad community treatment that public health initiatives offer will hopefully stem the tide of lifestyle-related diseases caused by practices such as overeating and tobacco use, she said.
Disparities still exist between women of different races, she said, and bridging that gap will be the main challenge in this century.
Blumenthal also called on the health professionals in the audience to consider innovative ways that the public can be sold on good diet and lifestyle choices, the way fast food and tobacco industries have sold their products.
"Prevention is key," she said.
Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the country, Blumenthal said, and women must see beyond tobacco companies' attempts to entice them through messages claiming female tobacco use to be self-empowering.
She cited the Virginia Slim cigarette motto "You've come a long way, baby."
"We like to say, 'You've gone the wrong way, baby,' " Blumenthal said.