World Health Day 2022 – FIGO President Dr Jeanne Conry on women's health and the environment

FIGO President Dr Jeanne Conry discusses women's health and the environment for World Health Day 2022 in a video focused on the World Health Organization's theme of 'Our Planet, Our Health'.

Read the full video transcript below

What is the link between women’s health and the environment?

"The environment and health are so closely linked, but I think we've had a long time in appreciating that. As OBGYNs, we are experts in understanding that folic acid, taken pre-pregnancy and in the early stages of pregnancy actually prevents spinal cord defects. We know that a woman who has diabetes and elevated blood sugar is more high-risk for having a foetus with cardiac defects.

"So, we have seen this link for a very long time. We could look at mercury in Minamata, Japan, and neurodevelopmental problems. Historically, we have known, but it is just more recently that we have seen some of the associations and understand now that we always need to look at the environment and women's health."

What is FIGO doing to help build societies focused on wellbeing?

"FIGO’s mission as the global voice for women's health is to really focus on women's health across the entire lifespan, and what I say is from adolescence through maturity, we can look at the different stages of life. But FIGO then says “what do we need to do to optimise a woman's health care, optimise how she receives the care and how she receives preventive health care across her lifespan?” 

"Certainly one of the areas of focus on are those reproductive years, because we know that in those reproductive times, a woman has to be concerned with not only her health, but if she conceives, how does her health, her nutritional status, her medical status, how do they impact the health of a foetus? So, FIGO’s goal is to improve the health of a woman across her entire lifespan and empower women, so she's able to make very strong and important decisions about her life, about her reproductive choices, about her education, her work, her community value, and her family.

"One of my areas of concern is something as simple and straightforward as prenatal vitamins1. Some research came out of North America just a couple of years ago. It showed that for 30 out of 30 vitamin companies in the study, the prenatal vitamins that we tell women to take before conception and during pregnancy were contaminated by led by arsenic, by cadmium, by a whole host of different chemicals that we would never want to be exposed to. So even when it comes to the regulation of something as important and as basic as a vitamin, it has not been adequately done.

"FIGO is stepping forward in that area. FIGO is working to identify what should be the no-tolerance level in a vitamin, what chemicals should we just not even see, and make sure that that's the manufacturing standards. FIGO has that voice in being able to say what is important for women, what we should expect and should not expect, and creating some standards around that."

What are your thoughts on the World Health Day 2022 theme #HealthierTomorrow?

"We cannot build a healthier tomorrow without a healthier today, and when we invest in the health and wellbeing of women, we are investing in our future. We know right here and now that if we optimise a woman's health, if we reduce her environmental exposures, if we improve the care that she is receiving, it is not only an investment now, it is an investment in our futures. Because we know that when she conceives, if she is able to be healthier, and carry that infant to term, have an infant who is born without birth defects and without problems, we are investing in tomorrow.

"That really takes an investment in our environment, whether it is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the products that we are exposed to, the water we drink. All of those exposures impact our health each and every day, and impact our response to our futures. So, we have to look this at this as one planet."

How can individuals help mitigate the risks posed by climate change?

"Climate change really is one of those very worrisome areas because it seems like it is out of our control. We are here and we are on the receiving end of so much that is going on. So whether it's the fire storms that we saw across Greece and Turkey last year or for me – I'm in California – the fire storms across California and Australia, or whether it's the flooding that we see in Bangladesh or the Philippines, so much of that seems out of our control.

"So there's an element that we cannot do anything about, except know that we have to respond to those vagaries. But we can advocate at our country level, we can advocate at our community level, and we can advocate even in our own OBGYN practices to make sure that we are making healthy, environmentally sound choices.

"I think we have to first understand that advocacy is critical. The second area I think we need to focus on is education. We need to be able to educate all of our colleagues about how serious climate change is on our health, and most certainly on the health of women – our patients. For example, the research is very clear about preterm birth and birth outcomes: high levels of heat and particulate matter increase the risk of preterm birth. We also know that we have to be able to respond to those environmental vagaries by creating early response systems so that women are not put in a position where they are the last ones to be able to respond."

What practical advice do you want to share with women and health care workers?

"I think one of the things that I am often asked is “What can I do?” You know, when we first came out with our FIGO opinion in 2015, our physicians and our patients all said “What can I do? If this is really about government regulation, then how do I have any control?”

"I think it is the little decisions that are truly impactful on our lives. So what I always tell women is make sure you know your food source, as much as you can, try to eat organic, try and decrease your exposure to pesticides, and eat healthily. The farm to table concept is really, really an important one, knowing your food sources as much as you can, going to a fresh market, so you really know where you're getting your food is really critical.

"The next thing I would say is, if you are going to eat in a microwave, and I use them all the time, do not put your goods in plastic, put them in glass. Do not ever use plastic in a microwave. Just avoid it. One of my luxuries that I had to give up was my Teflon pans when I realised what those chemicals were. I have switched to ceramics, you can switch to other sources of cooking, and they are much healthier. Those are individual choices that we can make and make sure that we are healthier in all of those choices. And then, advocate, we have to make sure that we don't have lead exposure in our pipes, that we don't have mercury in the food that we are eating when we are eating a lot of fresh fish."


1. In this video, Dr Conry addresses the subject of improvements to regulations on vitamins for women during pregnancy. FIGO supports the WHO antenatal care recommendations for a positive pregnancy experience, including recommendations that all women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant take the appropriate supplements, including folic acid and vitamin D: