When exercise studies are led by men, female participants are often in short supply.
While this underrepresentation of female research subjects has been documented in everything from clinical trials to cell cultures, a new study links researchers’ gender and women’s participation.
“Our findings provide direct evidence of the link between gender of authors and gender of research participants,” said lead study author Jessica Linde, a doctoral candidate at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
Having too few women participating results in gaps in understanding how certain interventions work in females.
For this study, researchers analyzed 971 original research articles in three major journals that focus on exercise physiology, zeroing in on studies published in 1991 and in 2021.
They found that in 1991, 51% of the papers were written by all-male teams. That was also true of about 18% of papers in 2021.
All female-research teams also declined over the period, from 1.8% in 1991 to 1.1% in 2021.
While the number of women participating in exercise studies rose over the years, they represented just one-third of study participants in 2021.
The number of female participants was lower in both years when the study leader (or last author) was a man.
In 2021, Linde said, when studies were led by a woman, they included equal numbers of men and women as participants.
More women in other leadership roles such as editorial board members also correlated to greater gender parity of research subjects, the study found.
The findings were presented this week at a meeting of the American Physiological Society, in Long Beach, Calif.
“The low representation of women as participants in exercise science and physiology research could be resolved by encouraging authors who are men to research equitable numbers of each gender,” the authors said in a meeting news release.
Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on women’s participation in research.
SOURCE: American Physiological Society, news release, April 21, 2023
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