Chronic Disabling Conditions, Diabetes, Obesity And Women

Chronic Disabling Conditions

In part because they live longer than men, women are more likely to be affected by such chronic disabling conditions as diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, obesity, urinary incontinence, Alzheimer's disease, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. These conditions not only limit function, but over time they may be life-threatening. Each of these disorders is characterized by a long trajectory of increasing impairment.

Chronic illnesses exert an untoward effect not only upon the person experiencing them but also upon family members and other care givers. More research is needed to determine whether specific gender-related factors contribute to the increased incidence of these illnesses in women.


An estimated 16 million Americans have diabetes. However, only 10.3 million cases are diagnosed, of which 8.1 million are women. The prevalence of diabetes is 2 to 4 times higher among Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian Pacific Islander women than among white women.

Diabetes can be controlled through a proper diet, weight loss, exercise, or the use of medications. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to severe vision loss, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, amputation of the lower limbs, and even death. Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death in African American, Native American, and Hispanic women; the sixth leading cause in Asian American women; and the seventh leading cause in white women.


Since the 1970s, the rate of obesity among females has increased by more than one-fourth to a rate of 36 percent. The rate is particularly high among African American women (52.3 percent) and Mexican-American women (50.1 percent). Much of this rising rate is attributed to the increasing lack of physical activity and overeating. Being overweight increases women's risks of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and some types of cancer.