Women's Health Research Program

Womens Health Research Program

The vision: optimal health for all women.

We study maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, gender equity in relation to health, global health, healthy ageing, chronic conditions and preventive health, mental health, and violence against women. We are the local hub for the national Women’s Health Research Translation and Impact Network, an Australian Health Research Alliance network.

Consumer and community involvement and coproduction are key features of our research that includes the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH), which has been collecting data from 57,000 women for over 25 years. 

The Women’s Health Research Program undertakes research to improve the health and wellbeing of all women.  Our researchers range from early-career researchers to international leaders in women’s health research across diverse disciplines, including medicine, public health, gerontology, nutrition, epidemiology, social work, sociology, linguistics, and psychology.


Research Areas

In addition to managing the Newcastle-based operations of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH), Australia’s largest, longest-running research project of its kind, the Program has three specific research priorities, funded by HMRI:

Violence Against Women Program
This strategic priority generates new knowledge about the health impact of Violence Against Women (VAW) across the life course. Prevention of VAW is a key priority of UNFPA and of the UN Sustainable Development Goal number 5. Yet even if goals to eliminate VAW were met today, there would remain a significant proportion of women and girls who had already experienced abuse and violence. The goal of this priority is to understand the health and health service use impact of VAW across the life course and to identify those factors that assist or deter recovery from these experiences.

Worldwide Wellness of Mothers and Babies Program
The Worldwide Wellness of mothers and babies (WWOMB) program aims to generate new knowledge about health services for maternal and infant wellbeing. In low-middle income nations the 2015 Millennium Development Goals for reductions in maternal and infant mortality were unmet. In Australia, the gap in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians remains unclosed.
Furthermore, health behaviour during pregnancy, particularly alcohol use, remains a significant issue among Australian women. Perinatal mental health is a challenge that significantly effects women having children across the globe.

Healthy Ageing
The Healthy Ageing program of research focuses on how people can age well, with an eye to understanding the factors that influence and promote healthy ageing. It considers the physical function, physical health and mental health of women in an effort to determine the physical, psychological and social factors associated with optimal physical and mental health of men and women as they age. The research also focuses on the role of health services, preventive activities, and treatments in maintaining quality of life for older people.

Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH)
The ALSWH has been continuously funded by the Federal Department of Health to collect information from over 57,000 women from across Australia since 1996. These dedicated women have completed regular surveys, provided biological samples and physical measures, taken part in qualitative interviews, and allowed their information to be linked to Medicare, hospitals, perinatal, cancer registry, aged care, and other data for over 25 years. With information covering women aged 18 to 100 years, ALSWH offers the most comprehensive databank of information about women’s health in Australia.

NHMRC and MRFF-funded studies have also supported data collections from the children of the women in the study, which have been linked with AEDC and NAPLAN data, facilitating inter-generational comparisons.


Research Innovations and Discovery 

The overall aim of the research undertaken by the Women's Health Research Program is to identify and address key issues in women’s health. Understanding the drivers of poor health across the lifespan requires a multidisciplinary approach and life course, intergenerational data.

We have the data resources, technical expertise, and academic excellence required to address these issues.

Findings from research have informed Government and non Government inquiries, roundtables, and policy reviews, as well as guideline and intervention development for practice.

The Violence against women research program has informed:

  • The next National plan to reduce violence against women and their children (2021).
  • The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Inquiry
    into family, domestic and sexual violence (2020).
  • The 4th National plan to reduce violence against women and their children (2018).
  • The National Women’s Health Strategy 2010-2020.
  • The development of Government Policy about women’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The 2021 Federal Budget, via the development of a report for the National Mental Health
    Commission on women’s mental health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

​Additionally, the Violence against women research has been used to develop and deploy a counselling intervention for women taking legal action after a sexual assault.

The Healthy ageing research program has informed:

  • Presentations to the G20 and advice to the Government of the United Kingdom through collaborations with the World Health Organisation (Kobe Centre) and the International Longevity Centre (ILC) UK.
  • Policy submissions including a series of responses to the Royal Commission on Quality and Safety in Aged Care and the Australian Association of Gerontology.
  • The Australian Institute of Health and Ageing (methods and outcomes).
  • The Department of Health aged care indicators.
  • The National Women’s Health Strategy 2010-2020.

​Additionally, a screening instrument for dementia has been developed for GPs as part of Guidelines for management, and modules for RACGP Red and White Books written.

The Maternal health, sexual and reproductive health research program has informed:

  • Policy developments in Ethiopia through the development of working relationships with the Ethiopian Ambassador and the Director of Maternal and Infant Care for Ethiopia.
  • The National Women’s Health Strategy 2010-2020.
  • The Inquiry into Support for New Parents and Babies in NSW regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
  • Policy makers about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual and reproductive health.

​Additionally, the team have coproduced an evaluation of a novel cervical cancer screening program with Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and Family Planning NSW.

The Chronic conditions and preventative health research program has informed:

  • The NSW Ministry of Health’s Leading Better Value Care team.  Our findings showed increases in chronic disease among women of reproductive age.
  • The National Women’s Health Strategy 2010-2020.

​Additionally, the team have also developed and tested interventions aimed at improving psychosocial outcomes for those with chronic diseases.

Our Mental health research program has informed:

  • The Productivity Commission's Inquiry into Mental Health in 2019.
  • The National Women’s Health Strategy 2010-2020.
  • The 2021 Federal Budget, via the development of a report for the National Mental Health Commission on women’s mental health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Interventions to manage depression among those in retirement homes.

    Women's Health Research Program Team 

    Leadership Group – Executive Committee


    Academic members


    Team Members

     

      Professor Deborah Loxton
      Research Program :
      • Women's Health Research Program
      Research Topics :
      Global Health, Healthy Lifestyles, Using Health Data & Statistics, Women's Health
      Associate Professor Mariko Carey
      Research Program :
      • Women's Health Research Program
      Research Topics :
      Clinical Treatment & Palliative Care, Effective Health Services, Healthy Lifestyles, Preventing Cardiovascular Disease
      Dr Catherine Chojenta
      Research Program :
      • Women's Health Research Program
      Research Topics :
      Effective Health Services, Healthy Ageing, Pregnancy & Babies, Using Health Data & Statistics, Women's Health
      Dr Melissa Harris
      Research Program :
      • Women's Health Research Program
      Research Topics :