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Merlene Davis: Take health survey to relieve one woman's stress, help all women in Kentucky

We women need to help Mary Johnson relieve some stress.

Johnson is the project manager of the Kentucky Women's Health Registry at the University of Kentucky's Center for the Advancement of Women's Health. She is in charge of getting 2,500 women to sign up each year for a survey of their health issues.

The data gleaned will provide a better understanding of how women's health and their environment interact. The registry is the first of its kind in the nation, Johnson said.

But back to her stress levels.

Women in the registry have been solicited every year since it began in 2006. There are 13,692 as of Feb. 9. The thing is, though, only 1,252 new women have signed on this year, and the year of the study ends Feb. 28.

"I need 1,250 women and I'm now in panic mode," Johnson said.

We can't have that. Prolonged stress is not good for your health.

The registry gives researchers a means of examining how the health of Kentucky women may change annually. For example, are there health variations caused by changes in education, chronic stress or pain, getting or losing a job, or the introduction of or increase in domestic violence?

The project hopes to have about 70 percent of the women return each year so environmental or health changes can be monitored and tracked, Johnson said.

The information is protected by a Certificate of Confidentiality from the National Institutes of Health, Johnson said. It cannot be used by any other outside organization or agency.

The amount of time needed to take the survey, which is available online or by mail, depends on the answers you give. It took about 20 minutes for me, but people with more health or environmental issues may take longer. People with fewer issues will take less time.

"What I really want the registry to do is to be the same demographic proportions as we have at the state level," Johnson said. "We now have about 4 percent African-American participation, and I'd like that to be 7 to 8."

African-American women, she said, have different health problems, and researchers need to understand what they are. "I need everyone, ages 10 to 89," she said. And, women in each of Kentucky's 120 counties need to participate, she said.

"Then we'd be able to compare all the women in Kentucky to each other by county and then compare them to women in the U.S., using census data and other information."

Survey questions range from chronic diseases to allergies, which are plentiful in Kentucky, to domestic violence. Johnson didn't think domestic violence would be much of an issue in the beginning, but the survey has revealed that 51 percent of participants have experienced it either as a woman or as a child, she said. And a fast-growing group has proven to be women over 60, she said.

Helping women recognize health issues can benefit their loved ones, too, she said. "If you educate a woman and make her more aware of her health, she will pass that on to her family," she said.

The survey can be completed online at www.kywomensregistry.com. Or you can call Johnson at 1-800-929-2320 and ask her to mail you one along with a pre-paid return envelope. You can also ask for several surveys if you want members of your church or social group to participate. The largest request she has had so far, Johnson said, is 300.

Filling out the survey and then returning each year will not only help you keep track of changes in your life and the effect those changes have on your health, but it will also help improve the health of your daughters and our younger generations.

Women may also be notified of studies involving new medicines or therapies, but participation in those are totally voluntary. There has been talking of starting a similar registry for men, but nothing has been finalized.

If you need more information, e-mail Johnson at majohng@uky.edu.

Remember, there are only 18 days left in February.

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