Get Real: Straight Talk About Women's Health

  • 50% of the causes of all 10 leading killers in women -- including heart disease, cancer, stroke and lung disease -- are related to behavior. Adoption of healthy behaviors during the formative college years can be crucial for young women.
  • The leading causes of death for young women ages 18 to 24 are unintentional injuries, homicide, cancer, and heart disease.

Illnesses and Diseases


  • Prevention and early detection are the first important steps to reducing your risk for developing cancer, the No. 2 killer of women in the United States.
  • Lung cancer is the top cancer killer among American women -- 75% of all lung cancer deaths would be preventable if women did not smoke.
  • Breast cancer strikes 1 in 8 women and is the second leading cancer killer among women. Women ages 20 through 40 should have a clinical breast exam every three years.
  • Cervical cancer strikes up to 2 women of every 100. All women 18 and over should have an annual Pap test and pelvic exam.

Eating Disorders

  • Adolescent and young adult women comprise 90% of the millions of Americans afflicted with eating disorders.
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, affect 1 in 5 women, mostly young women.
  • Eating disorders kill up to 10 percent of their victims and are a form of mental illness.
  • Eating disorders can result in severe health complications, including stomach rupture, heart failure and digestive disorders, osteoporosis, teeth erosion and even death.

Heart Disease

  • Heart disease is the #1 killer of women.
  • Although heart disease is a gradual process that usually sets in later in life, young women need to practice healthy lifestyles during these formative years.
  • Lifestyle factors associated with heart disease include smoking, lack of exercise, high cholesterol and excess weight.


  • HIV infection is one of the top 10 causes of death among 15 to 24 year olds, and the fourth leading cause of death among women ages 25 to 44.
  • It's estimated that one in four new HIV infections in the United States occurs among people under the age of 21. That means every day up to 54 people under the age of 21 are infected with HIV -- or more than two young people every hour.
  • Women are the fastest growing group to be infected by HIV.

Mental Health Illnesses

  • Approximately 7% of American women will suffer from a major depression during their lifetime compared to 2.6% men.
  • Suicide is the third leading killer of young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Over 90% of all suicides are by those suffering mental or addictive disorders.
  • One in 10 women will suffer a mood disorder during her lifetime, with depression being the most prevalent negative mood among women.


  • Osteoporosis is a debilitating bone disease that strikes women in their later years, but the risk can be reduced in their early years through good nutrition, adequate calcium intake and exercise.
  • Women have up to 25 percent less bone mass than men, and most of the body's bone density is determined by age 35. Therefore calcium plays an important role early in a woman's life. Doctors recommend girls and women between the ages of 11 and 24 take 1,500 mg of calcium daily.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Contraception

  • Women suffer more frequent and severe long-term consequences of STDs than men because they are more susceptible to infection and less likely to experience symptoms.
  • 86 percent of diagnosed STDs occur in 15 to 29-year olds.
  • 82 percent of pregnancies among women 15 to 19 are unintended and 61% of pregnancies among women 20 to 24 are unintended.
  • The most common STDs for young women are chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhea, herpes, HIV, pelvic inflammatory disease and syphilis.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

  • By changing poor lifestyle behaviors -- such as smoking, drinking and inactivity -- young women could lower their risk of premature death and disability by as much as 50%.

Alcohol Contributes to Heart Disease, Accidents, Diabetes and Infection.

  • In the United States, more than 800,000 young women aged 18 to 25 engage in heavy alcohol use, which is defined as five or more drinks on at least five occasions per month.
  • Drinking has both long-term effects, such as stomach problems, liver or pancreatic damage, heart ailments and memory loss, and short-term effects, such as depressive changes, sleep disturbances, hangovers, excess caloric intake and bad breath.
  • 60 percent of college-aged women who contract STDs have had sex under the influence of alcohol.

Nutrition/Exercise Contributes to Heart Disease, Cancer, Stroke, Pneumonia, Influenza, Diabetes, Infection and Hardening of the Arteries.

  • A balanced diet and regular exercise can directly influence a young women's risk for several diseases and disabling conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and stroke, the top three killers of women in the United States.
  • The three principles for nutrition and exercise are balance, variety and moderation.
  • Exercise not only burns calories and fat, but it also helps maintain a healthy heart, lungs, muscles and bones, and make you feel more energetic and optimistic.

Smoking Contributes to Heart Disease, Cancer, Stroke, Chronic Lung Disease, Pneumonia, Influenza, Infection and Hardening of the Arteries.

  • Twenty-three percent of women ages 18 to 24 smoke.
  • One in five adolescent girls in the United States smokes, or at least 1.5 million girls.
  • 19% of girls ages 12 to 18 smoke.
  • 80-90% of young people begin to smoke before age 20. One-third of these people will die of this addiction.
  • Tobacco use puts women at special risk for reproductive problems, including reduced fertility, early menopause and pregnancy complications.

Substance Abuse Contributes to Pneumonia, Influenza, Accidents, Kidney Disease and Infection.

  • Young women can have special risk factors for drug abuse and dependency, such as low self-esteem, little self-confidence and feelings of powerlessness.
  • The primary drugs commonly abused by young women are cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogens.
  • Studies suggest that marijuana poses special health risks to women, including reproductive problems, infertility, and higher levels of testosterone which results in increased body hair and acne.

For Further Information. . .

U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Room 730B
Washington, DC 20201
Phone: 202-690-7650
Fax: 202-690-7172