Hundreds of migrant women needed for Australia’s largest women’s health study

At least 1,000 women who were born in south, southeast, and northeast Asian countries between 1973 and 1978 are needed for an Australian study on women’s health to ensure it’s representative of the nation’s population.

At least 1,000 migrant women are to be recruited to contribute to Australia’s largest and longest-running study on women’s health.

They will be added to the 57,000 Australian women in four age groups who are already taking part in the study that began in 1996.

Funded by the Federal Department of Health, the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health examines the same women every three years. 

The participants are drawn from four generations: those born between 1921 and 1926, 1946 and 1951, 1973 and 1978, and 1989 and 1995.

The University of Newcastle jointly manages the study with the University of Queensland.

The study’s deputy director, Professor Deb Loxton from the University of Newcastle, said the makeup of Australia’s population is “somewhat different” to when they first recruited women for the project in 1996.

“So, what we’re doing is recruiting 1,000 women primarily from south, southeast, and northeast Asian countries to make sure that that cohort of women who were born 1973 to 1978 are representing women from across Australia,” she told

The study’s director, Professor Gita Mishra from the University of Queensland, said this recruitment will ensure the study accurately reflects the health issues of the current population.

“There’s about 16 percent of women from the south and southeast Asia that is in the population. We want to hear from them,” she told

“We want to know about their health, the state of their health and wellbeing, so that we can inform government policy and that their needs can be met.

“That’s where we really need to know a bit more about factors that are promoting their health and wellbeing, also factors that are causing them to have ill health.”

Professor Loxton said the study’s oldest participant is 101 years old and is among about 600 women from the cohort born between 1921 and 1926.

“Those women were just sort of reaching retirement age back in 1996 and it’s that time of transition from a working life, or a family life, into the retirement space and then tracking them into very old age,” she said.

“Then in 2012 to 2013, we recruited a new cohort of women, aged 18 to 23, to capture the next generation.”

Professor Loxton said the insights gathered by the study have been used to develop a diverse range of policies, including the Australian government’s current National Women’s Health Strategy, which outlines an approach to improving the health of women and girls and to reducing inequities between different groups.

She said the study has also helped shape the National Action Plan for Endometriosis, international guidelines for the management of polycystic ovary syndrome and the National Perinatal Mental Health guidelines, among others.

“The Australian government’s physical activity guidelines were formed using information that’s come from the study,” she said.

“Also, the New South Wales health framework for women’s health was developed using data from the study and, in addition to that, we’ve also informed other policies like the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their children — the one that’s been in effect and the one that will take effect at the end of this year.”

But Executive Director of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health in Melbourne, Dr Adele Murdolo, said the study has two major limitations.

“The surveys have been administered in English so it really has only targeted those women, even if they are from migrant backgrounds but those women who have the English language literacy to complete quite a complex survey in the English language,” she told.

“The second thing is that it’s based on Medicare records. So, it really only can survey, or include women in the survey, who have Medicare eligibility and that excludes the many millions of temporary migrants that are here in Australia and who don’t have Medicare eligibility.” 

Professor Loxton said study participants can use interpreters if they need assistance with English. 

She said the Medicare eligibility issue is something she’s keen to address.

“We have actually had a couple of conversations about setting up an alternative study for women who don’t yet have a Medicare card because we do recognise that as a limitation of our study. But, unfortunately, this has been part of the procedure of this study to validate women into the cohort is to have that Medicare card,” she said.

“One of the reasons for that is because part of our data actually comes from Medicare. So, we link the survey data with Medicare data in order to assess women’s use of health services in relation to their health and well-being. 

“We do recognise that as a limitation of the study. And we’re very keen to continue our conversations on how we can circumvent that.”

Dr Murdolo said there are inequities embedded in Australia’s healthcare system which have an impact on migrant women’s health.

“It’s important to recognise migrants come to Australia with really good health – it’s called the healthy migrant effect – but migrants do experience a decrease in their health status after the first five years of living and working in Australia,” she said.

“That means that there’s something that goes beyond the individual’s biology or the individual’s culture and really points to the health system itself not providing the kind of care that is needed,

“So, I think that would also be something really important to be able to pick up through the survey – the extent to which migrant and refugee women are experiencing inequity or poorer health care in the health system.”

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