Middle-aged Icelandic-Canadian women's perceptions of health, their health needs and factors that influence health

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Gudmundson, Susan Jane
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Health promotion and illness prevention programs are often designed using a definition of health that is not sensitive to gender, age, or culture. Yet, the Canadian government recognizes that effective health programs must have thoughtful regard for such variables. Women's definitions of health, spoken by and for women from their own experience, have not been systematically explored. Most women's health-related research is designed to depict women's health in terms of performance of social roles, from a biomedical perspective, and is usually focused on young women in the childbearing years. This narrow conceptualization of women's health precludes older, healthy women from articulating a vision of health based on their own experience. Women have been acknowledged as the primary guardians of health for their families and communities. The Icelandic-Canadian community has successfully sustained itself within Manitoba mosaic, therefore we must assume the Icelandic-Canadian women were, and continue to be, instrumental in the survival of the Icelandic-Canadian culture. This study explored and described Icelandic-Canadian middle-aged women's perceptions of health, their health needs and factors that influenced their health through their own experience with health. Twelve informants were interviewed and through a qualitative feminist analysis three themes emerged that enhance understanding of health from a middle-aged women's perspective. The three themes are: (a) health as the power of positive thinking, (b) health as autonomy, and (c) health as caring for the self and others. The informants advanced multi-dimensional definitions of health accentuating the minor role biological health plays in their health perceptions. The informants also experienced the phenomenon of the double-bind and other-centeredness that encouraged them to assume personal responsibility for their own health, and the health and happiness of others. However, through resourceful adaptation and subversion, the informants achieved a level of self-determination.