Researchers discuss advances, challenges in women’s health research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 90 attendees gathered Nov. 6 at Penn State University Park for the fourth annual Women’s Health Research Day. Each year, the event showcases new research on women’s health and sex and gender differences from across multiple Penn State campuses.

The event was sponsored by Penn State's Center for Women’s Health Research and the Department of Kinesiology, and included oral research presentations, a panel discussion, research posters, and a keynote address from Dr. Nanette Santoro, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

Dr. Jennifer McCall-Hosenfeld, director of the Penn State Center for Women’s Health Research, said the event is designed to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-campus networking from different departments and disciplines across the Penn State campuses.

“Women’s health and sex-gender research is broad, and this event allows the opportunity for investigators across Penn State to learn different approaches, examine women’s health topics from a unique lens, and really to highlight the best research at Penn State that influences women’s health, from the laboratory to the bedside, and into the community.”

Santoro kicked off the event by speaking about the challenges women with obesity have with fertility. According to Santoro, obesity can lead to delayed conception, a higher chance of pregnancy loss and an increased risk of having an obese child, among others.

Despite these challenges, Santoro also had recommendations for women with obesity and their doctors. Santoro said that preventing obesity is the best strategy, but changing lifestyle slowly with small changes, frequent follow-ups, and self-monitoring diet and exercise with mobile apps can help women with obesity improve their health.

The day moved on to a panel discussion about how the changing policy landscape is affecting women’s health. Panelists included Santoro; Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration; Kristin Sznajder, assistant professor of public health services; and Sheila West, professor of biobehavioral health, all of Penn State.

The panelists discussed how current policies, like the reinstated global gag rule on discussing abortion by individuals and organizations that receive federal funding, affects the health of women in the United States and across the globe. They also discussed the debate on healthcare in America, highlighting the importance of insurance coverage to provide access to basic health services, including routine preventive healthcare services for women, such as mammography and access to contraception.

The day concluded with eight research presentations, which included such topics as timing of hormone replacement in women, metabolic rates in pregnant women, zinc deficiencies, the difference in microcephaly rates in boys and girls, and intimate partner violence, among others. James Hester, a graduate assistant in the Department of Animal Sciences, was awarded best presentation for his talk “Zinc Deficiency Impairs Oocyte Growth and Cumulus Cell Differentiation in the Preantral Ovarian Follicle.”

McCall-Hosenfeld said that this year the poster session exceeded her expectations.

“The poster session was one of the best I have seen,” McCall-Hosenfeld said.  “Participants were very engaged and there were lively discussions across the entire room.”

The conference was also supported by the Penn State College of Medicine Office of the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, the Robert E. Dye Professorship, and Penn State's Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness.

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Last Updated November 13, 2017