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Federal Interagency Working Group on Women's Health


There is abundant evidence that environmental factors may contribute to a variety of diseases in women, including breast and ovarian cancers, osteoporosis, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and autoimmune diseases. Many federal agencies and offices are working to address these environmental and often preventable threats to women's health. The HHS Office on Women's Health (OWH) established the Federal Interagency Working Group on Women's Health and the Environment (FIWGWHE) in 1994 to coordinate and focus federal action in this area.

The FIWGWHE meets quarterly and consists of more than 40 representatives from various federal agencies and offices, including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Labor and Department of Defense. The group has 3 goals:

  • To discuss and exchange information on ongoing activities in research, information dissemination and outreach, health care services, training, and public policy related to women's health and the environment
  • To ensure cooperation and consolidation of efforts between the various federal agencies and offices that work on the issue of women's health and the environment
  • To identify gaps, foster collaborations between agencies, and plan and implement activities that address identified needs

Currently, the FIWGWHE has 5 subcommittees that meet on a monthly basis to develop, plan and implement multi-agency activities that address specific areas of interest.

  1. The Dietary Supplements Subcommittee plans to develop materials to educate both consumers and health care providers about dietary supplements that are used to treat vasomotor menopausal symptoms (hot flashes) and the scientific evidence about their safety and efficacy. These materials will also provide women and health care providers with critical assessment tools (i.e. a checklist) to help them judge the value of various messages and products.
  2. The Subcommittee on Women and Tobacco has focused its efforts on implementing the Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, Clinical Practice Guideline 2008 Update (the Public Health Service Guideline) in Federally-funded clinics and with Medicaid providers. This strategy targets low socio-economic status (LSES) women of childbearing age, because they are at special risk for tobacco use, and addressing their tobacco use also reduces exposure for their families and children.
  3. The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Ergonomics Subcommittee is working to stimulate and fund new research focused on improving PPE fit and comfort for women and determining the general workplace ergonomic hazards that women face because of their gender. The subcommittee is in the process of reviewing and revising a national PPE survey for women that will be disseminated by the Department of Labor.
  4. The Mercury Subcommittee is creating a question and answer fact sheet to educate women about potential mercury exposure from fish consumption and other sources.
  5. The Autoimmune Diseases Subcommittee has chosen to focus on the issue of environmental risk factors for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease also known as lupus.

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Past accomplishments

Since its inception in 1994, the FIWGWHE and its subcommittees (both past and present) have conducted many activities to address important topics related to women's health and the environment. Some highlights include:

  • In September 1998, the FIWGWHE organized a conference entitled, "Women's Health and the Environment: Innovations in Science and Policy." This conference generated recommendations for policy, communication and training, and research to be considered by the federal government. A review article was published in the Journal of Women's Health and Gender-Based Medicine in April 2000.
  • The Subcommittee on Breastfeeding developed the HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding, released in October, 2000 by the Surgeon General. The Blueprint, the first breastfeeding policy for the nation, focuses attention on the importance of breastfeeding and recommends action steps for the health care system, families, the community, researchers and the workplace to promote breastfeeding. The Blueprint gave rise to the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, which aims to promote breastfeeding among first-time parents (mothers and fathers) who would not normally breastfeed their baby. As a part of the National Breastfeeding Campaign, a comprehensive 3 year media campaign was launched in 2004.
  • The Subcommittee on Environmental Hormones developed the Survey on Conventional, Complementary and Alternative Menopausal Practices Survey (CAMPS). This survey evaluated the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices of women, ages 45 and older, with regard to menopause and conditions related to menopause. It also assessed environmental influences, such as pharmacological, behavioral, and alternative therapies and practice. Data and results from the survey were published in the November 2003 issue of Menopause.
  • The work of the Subcommittee on Environmental Exposures gave rise to a "Breast Cancer Clusters" workshop in December 1998 and the "Workshop on Breast Cancer and the Environment" in June 2003. The goal of these workshops was to define, examine, and address approaches to investigating the link between the environment and breast cancer in high rate areas. Recommendations for research can be found in the final report from the 2003 workshop (PDF, 336 KB) (archive).
  • The Subcommittee on Women and Tobacco is implementing a three-phase strategy to reduce tobacco use among LSES women of childbearing age. Phase 1 involved implementing the Public Health Service Guideline in ten Health Resources and Services Agency (HRSA) primary care associations, and nine Indian Health Service (IHS) funded clinics. Phase 2 developed an Implementation Process Model to assist with creating tobacco cessation programs at the clinical level. Phase 3 (ongoing) provided funding to implement and evaluate a comprehensive and sustainable tobacco cessation and prevention program that results in increased quit attempts, abstinence, and/or cessation for LSES women of childbearing age. It is based on both the Public Health Service Guideline and the Implementation Process Model. Contact Susan Sanders at susan.sanders@hhs.gov for a copy of the Implementation Process Model.

The Federal Interagency Working Group on Women's Health and the Environment is chaired by Suzanne G. Haynes.

Content last updated: June 01, 2006.

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