When I was researching Invisible Women, there was one area of research that consistently came top of the class in the competitive field of forgetting-women-exist-ology: sport science. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t make my sport science data gap rant fit anywhere in the book, which I was very sad about at the time, because I really did want to say “wtaf, sport science???”
Thankfully, Anna Kessel, the editor of The Telegraph
‘s then-new women’s sport pages came to my rescue when about a month after Invisible Women was published she commissioned me to write about how sport science was failing women. So I dug out my “wtaf sport science” notes and let rip:
In 2014, the European Journal of Sport Science published a paper entitled: “Where are all the female participants in Sports and Exercise Medicine research?” Well, wherever they are, they certainly are not in the research, the study concluded. A 2016 review found the same problem: 27 per cent of studies were all-male, while for the 73 per cent of studies that involved at least some women, “some” was the operative word.
The March 2016 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences had a “dismal” female participation rate of only 12 per cent.
This leaves researchers who do take an interest in women complaining of a “limited understanding” and an “inadequate number of published studies”. There is “much less information” on female bodies and “several fundamental questions remain unanswered”. A perennial cry of the sports scientist when it comes to women is: “We just don’t know.”
A random sampling of things we do not know includes sex differences in how muscles tire; if women’s muscles respond to protein in the same way as men’s; if women’s metabolisms respond to exercise in the same way; how women respond to concussions (“even though women suffer concussions at higher rates than men and take longer to recover in comparable sports”); if women regulate their body temperature differently; the female ventilatory response to exercise.
And so on – I would just go ahead and read the whole article
, I think it’s open-access and I included a number of quite gob-smacking data gaps that should set you up all nice and ragey and ready for IWD.
Anyway, as a result of my general “wtaf sport science” position, I’m always interested in hearing how those kids are getting on, and so I was delighted to see a new paper
that came out last week looking at the data gap specifically in “evidence-based performance supplements.” Evidence-based for WHOM, you ask, because you are excellent and wise GFPs, and the answer is: not really women.
The authors of this study identified ran a PubMed search for papers (published up to September 2021) that studied “the six performance supplements included in Category A of the Australian Institute of Sport Sports Supplement Framework […]described as “supplements with strong scientific
[default male] evidence for use in specific situations in sport using evidence-based protocols.”
They then sorted through the results, excluding duplicates or papers that otherwise didn’t fit their criteria (one of the reasons for exclusion was a "failure to explicitly state the sex or male: female ratio of the participants,” which tickled me because that, last time I checked, is most papers), ultimately identifying 1826 studies, of which women made up just 23% of the participants.
59-77% of papers studied only men versus 0-8% that studied only women. Only 34% of studies included “at least one woman,” which is much lower than the figure found in the 2016 review despite the bar of “one woman” being laughably low. (It’s worth noting here that the 2016 review was for a much wider range of topics and that when I was originally researching this I did find that performance-related studies seemed to be consistently worse for female representation).