Women's health, traditionally defined, emphasises reproductive and maternal conditions without consideration of social contexts. Advocates urge a broader conceptualisation. The medical literature influences the definitions and delivery of women's health care. We compared how women's health was represented in leading general medical (GM) versus women's health specialty (WS) journals.
Original investigations published between January 1 – June 30, 1999 in leading GM (n = 514) and WS (n = 82) journals were compared. Data were collected from 99 GM and 82 WS articles on women's health. Independent reviewers conducted content analyses of sample characteristics, study design, and health topic. Each article was classified as "Traditional" (e.g. menstruation, breast cancer), "Non-traditional" (e.g. abuse, osteoporosis), or "Both."
Of the GM articles, 53 (53.5%) focused solely on a traditional women's health topic; half were reproductive and half female cancers. In contrast, 22 (26.8%) WS articles were traditionally focused. A non-traditional topic was the sole focus of 27 (27.3%) GM articles versus 34 (41.5%) WS articles. One-fifth of GM and one-third of WS articles addressed both. RCTs dominated the GM articles, while 40% of WS articles used qualitative or mixed study designs. Leading sources of women's death and disability were not well covered in either type of journal.
Most GM articles drew on a narrow definition of women's health. WS journals provided more balanced coverage, addressing social concerns in addition to "navel-to-knees" women's health. Since GM journals have wide impact, editorial decisions and peer review processes should promote a broader conceptualisation of women's health.