How well do older women understand FDA-provided health information?

Improving health communications with older women regarding Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated products


Nearly 1/3 of the current U.S. population is aged 50+ years, and this proportion is expected to increase dramatically by 2050. Half of these older adults are women. Older women face the increasing burden of chronic health conditions, for which they often use Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated medical products and recommended diet modifications to maintain their health, or treat or prevent health complications.

These challenges are further complicated in those 68% or more of older adults who have difficulty using print materials, interpreting numbers, and performing basic calculations. Limited health literacy among these older adults contributes to health disparities, worse health outcomes, increased use of health care facilities and products, and more medication errors. Yet, there has been no research to identify the difficulties that older adults—specifically older women—might face in understanding and using information FDA provides.


Westat is conducting focus groups with older women in order to:

  • Identify older women’s perceptions about FDA’s health communications
  • Assess older women’s health information-seeking behaviors and intentions

This study will also examine whether older women’s perceptions, intentions, and behaviors about FDA’s health communications vary by the type of FDA-regulated product, generation cohorts, as well as social, contextual, environmental, and behavioral factors associated with health disparities.

Findings from these focus groups will inform future development of a national survey of older women to explore their perceptions of FDA health communications and their health-information seeking behaviors and intentions. 


Additional behavioral and social science research, such as this study, will strengthen FDA’s design and implementation of its health communications to address the unique needs of older women.

Specifically, this research will support FDA’s efforts to develop science-based messages that are clearer and more relevant to older women, and may be more likely to help this population make more informed health decisions.


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