Nurses' Studies Lead to Important Findings on Women's Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Middle-age women should be thankful for nurses. It’s not only because nurses provide important care and comfort during critical junctures in our lives as well as those of our loved ones. Many of these nurses are also helping researchers discover health issues specific to women through their participation in the Nurses’ Health Studies.


    Originally established in 1976, the initial Nurses’ Health Study was designed to investigate potential consequences of the use of oral contraceptives over a long period of time. Registered nurses were involved in the study as participants because researchers believed that because of their background, they would be able to respond with a high degree of accuracy to brief, technically worded questionnaires. Furthermore, because of the nurses’ involvement in a health care career, the researchers felt that these participants would be motivated to take part in a longitudinal study.

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    The participants in the original cohort were between the ages of 30 and 55 in 1976 and were all married. They lived in the 11 most populated states – California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Approximately 122,000 nurses agreed to participate in the initial studied. They answered a questionnaire every two years that asked about development of diseases as well as health-related topics, such as menopause status, hormone use and smoking. In 1980, the participants were asked about food frequency since researchers recognized that diet and nutrition played a critical role in the onset of chronic diseases.


    A second cohort was established in 1989 in order to study oral contraceptives, diet and lifestyle risk factors in women who were younger than the original cohort. The initial target population was between the ages of 25-42. A total of 116,686 women who lived in California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas were selected for this second cohort. Again, the participants completed questionnaires every two years that looked at diseases they had as well as hormone use, pregnancy history, menopausal status, and food frequency and smoking.


    These studies have led to numerous important findings, such as:

    • Taking hormone therapy after menopause reduces the risk of colon cancer and hip fracture, but increases the risk of stroke.
    • Obesity increases the risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women as well as colon cancer. However, being obese provides strong protection against hip fractures.
    • Smoking has a strong association with coronary heart disease and stroke, colon cancer, cataracts, “wet” age-related macular degeneration and hip fracture.
    • A diet that’s higher in red meat increases the risk of breast cancer prior to menopause.  Additionally, high intake of red and processed meats increases the risk of colon cancer.
    • Regular physical activity weekly lowers the risk of breast cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, and hip fracture and also protects cognitive function.

    A third cohort of the Nurses Study is currently being recruited. The researchers are looking for nurses or nursing students between the ages of 20-46 in the United States and Canada. This particular study is entirely web-based and participants will include female LPN/LVNs and RNs. This particular version is designed to look at nurses’ diverse backgrounds and will focus on issues related to lifestyle, fertility/pregnancy, environment, and nursing exposures. This latest effort is supported by the American Nurses Association, the National Federation of Licensed Practice Nurses, the National Black Nurses Association, the Institute for Nursing Healthcare Leadership, the National League for Nursing, the National Student Nurses Association, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses & Associates, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and GoodTherapy.org. So if you are a nurse who falls into the age range – or know one – I’d encourage you to check out the information about volunteering for the study.

    Primary Resources for This Sharepost:


  • Harvard University. (ND). The nurses' health study.

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    Nurses’ Health Study 3. (2013). Website.

Published On: June 28, 2014