Researchers say understanding differences in when menopause starts in racial and ethnic groups can help with screening and preventive care.
An inclusive review of decades’ worth of data reveals new insight into menopause and aging in women of color, suggesting Black and Hispanic women are likely to experience menopause measurably earlier than those who are white. The researchers say the difference is possibly caused by the grinding daily stresses of racism.
The study, published on Thursday in the International Journal of Epidemiology, pulls data from one of the largest, longest-running efforts to understand the health of women as they age and experience menopause. Launched in 1994, the ongoing project, known as the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), spans seven research centers and has recruited more than 3,000 participants across five racial and ethnic groups and a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures.
But despite their deliberate and extensive efforts to provide inclusive data, the SWAN scientists recently noticed that some women had still been left out: many postmenopausal people who volunteered for the study—particularly those who were Black and Hispanic—had inadvertently been excluded.
Alexis Reeves, a SWAN investigator and then a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, wanted to address the representation gap through her doctoral research. “My first thought was ‘How do we understand that bias?’” says Reeves, who is first author of the new study. She and her then adviser Siobán Harlow, an epidemiologist and SWAN investigator, who co-authored the new paper, found a statistical workaround to the project’s exclusion problem, essentially adding those excluded participants back into SWAN.