The Penn State Center for Women’s Health Research is a collaborative effort to improve the health of women through interdisciplinary research and research training. In this effort, the Center contributes to understanding sex and gender differences in health and to developing sex/gender-sensitive approaches to health promotion, health care, and policy. The research conducted by investigators within the Center addresses a variety of health topics affecting women across the lifespan.
The Center has special focus on pregnancy-related issues and on prevention. With regard to pregnancy, investigators are currently studying preconceptional health in relation to adverse pregnancy outcomes for the mother and baby; unintended pregnancy in women with chronic medical conditions; and the long-term effects of pregnancy and mode of delivery on women’s health and well-being. With regard to prevention, investigators are currently focusing on preventing overweight and obesity in women and girls; understanding the health impacts of intimate partner violence in rural communities; improving delivery of preventive services for rural women of all ages; and eliminating disparities in cancer screening. The Center’s research has been funded by a number of sources, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health, National Institutes of Health, Penn State Social Sciences Research Institute, Penn State CTSI, and Highmark. The Center is a co-sponsor of the annual Gender and Health Interest Group meeting held in conjunction with AcademyHealth's Annual Research Meeting.
The Center was founded in 2004 as the Central Pennsylvania Center of Excellence for Research on Pregnancy Outcomes, with a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (nonformula tobacco settlement funds). This multidisciplinary center included over 20 participating Penn State faculty members at both the Hershey and University Park campuses, as well as collaborating organizations in the Central Pennsylvania region. The major research effort of the original Center was the Central Pennsylvania Women’s Health Study (CePAWHS), a multi-phase project designed to identify and reduce risks for adverse pregnancy outcomes in pre- and interconceptional women residing in a 28-county region of Central Pennsylvania. CePAWHS investigators developed and tested the Strong Healthy Women behavior change intervention for pre- and interconceptional women. CePAWHS is ongoing and has spun-off new projects and collaborations addressing a wide array of women’s health issues.
In 2007, Penn State was awarded a BIRCWH (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health) K12 grant from the National Institutes of Health, to provide mentored research career development for junior faculty members interested in women’s health or in sex/gender differences related to health. The Penn State BIRCWH program spans the Hershey and University Park campuses, with active participation by the College of Medicine, College of Health and Human Development, and College of Liberal Arts. To date, 12 faculty members have been funded as Scholars in the Penn State BIRCWH program, and over 25 senior faculty research mentors have participated in the program.
In 2011, the name of the Center was changed to the Penn State Center for Women’s Health Research to reflect the expanded research and training agenda in women’s health. Because the Center is located in Central Pennsylvania, which includes both mid-sized cities and a large rural population, researchers have access to a target population that is diverse with respect to geography as well as socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. The region also includes medically-underserved communities and health professional shortage areas. The Center’s research therefore has potential impact for women in diverse communities and social circumstances, as well as for the field of women’s health generally.
Administratively based in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Medicine, the Center welcomes participation by Penn State faculty members and students interested in research on women’s health and sex/gender issues related to health. The Center offers:
- Access to a network of Penn State investigators who are actively involved in women’s health research
- Access to expertise in the recruitment of women in the region for research studies
- Opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaboration and mentoring
- Access to datasets from CePAWHS and other women’s health projects, as well as national databases on women’s health
- Measures of women’s health status, health-related behavior, and satisfaction with health care, as well as expertise in measure development
- Additional resources for developing and conducting research projects in women’s health