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Demedicalizing menopause. With baby boomers reaching their 50s in droves and recent research questioning the safety of hormone replacement therapies (HRT), many women are reconsidering their approach to menopause and its symptoms.

Zhao Feng (GRS’04), a graduate student working with CAS Professor Elizabeth Markson, Nazli Kibria and Peter Yeager, CAS associate professors, and Alya Guseva, a CAS assistant professor, all in the department of sociology, is engaged in a study of the cultural influences that affect women experiencing menopause. “Since the 1960s,” she writes, “menopausal and postmenopausal bodies have been considered as estrogen-deficient and pathologized by physicians in the United States.” Zhao acknowledges that lower hormone levels may lead to biological symptoms such as hot flashes, but notes that women experience diverse symptoms and express different feelings about those symptoms.

Her review of the literature reveals that employment and socioeconomic status, relationship with their physician, and cultural and ethnic background all influence women’s menopausal attitudes and symptoms. “Not only do the attitudes towards menopause differ among various cultural groups,” she says, “but symptoms and women’s coping strategies also vary across cultures.” According to previous research, African-American, Filipino-American, and Japanese women report fewer symptoms and are less likely to use HRT. European-American women, on the other hand, tend to internalize negative images, seeing menopause as a medical condition to be treated with medication, “a major negative life event associated with loss of sexual attractiveness and youthful femininity . . .”

Zhao recently completed a preliminary series of pilot interviews with Chinese-American women and plans comprehensive interviews with 50 Chinese-American women at midlife, to compare their menopausal experiences with those of women from other cultural groups gleaned from the literature. Her results thus far confirm culturally based influences. Most of the Chinese-American women interviewed had symptoms including hot flashes, osteoporosis, and dry skin, but indicated that the symptoms did not bother them very much and that a woman’s life involves many dramatic hormone changes, so they tend to integrate menopause into their lives rather than seek to change the condition.

By better understanding how cultural factors influence the physical and emotional experiences of women at midlife, Zhao hopes to help women and their caregivers better integrate the changes menopause brings, and improve the quality of their lives.


Better than recycling. Remanufacturing takes worn, defective, or discarded products and makes them new again -- in some cases better than new. It preserves much of the original value of the product, conserving a good deal of the material, labor, and energy invested in the original product, contrasted with recycling, which transforms the product back into raw material. And according to a new report by ENG manufacturing engineering faculty members Robert T. Lund, an adjunct professor, and William Hauser, an adjunct assistant professor, remanufacturing is a huge and growing industry.

In order to be remanufactured, a product must be made of standard interchangeable parts that it is technically possible to rebuild and restore to commercial value. Products such as automotive parts, compressors, electrical apparatus, machinery, office furniture, truck tires, and toner cartridges make up the bulk of the industry. Remanufactured products are most often sold to commercial and industrial customers, although toner and ink-jet cartridges are making inroads into the broader consumer market.

The authors surveyed hundreds of industry executives over a two-and-a-half-year period. Their 179-page report summarizes previous research on the industry and profiles some of the most successful firms.

An earlier study by Lund, published in 1996, found about 70,000 remanufacturing firms in the United States, with annual sales totaling billion, directly employing 480,000 people, with perhaps twice that number indirectly employed. Because companies tend to be small, and the range of products so broad, the remanufacturing industry remains largely invisible to the general public, despite the well-recognized names, such as Caterpillar, Lucent Technologies, and Pitney-Bowes, that engage in remanufacturing.

The industry’s challenges include inexpensive new products and sharply improved new-product durability. Nevertheless, firms in the current study, “Remanufacturing Industry: Anatomy of a Giant,” report an aggregate sales increase of 20 percent between 1997 and 2000. Firms are most often privately owned, with annual sales ranging from 0,000 to million; however, companies with sales of million or more account for about 68 percent of all sales in the survey.

Overall, the authors conclude, remanufacturing sales are as large as those of consumer appliance manufacturing or the steel products industry, and remanufacturing employment is six times as large as that of the petroleum products industry. According to the report, “In addition to its direct contributions to our economy as tax-paying, income-producing firms, remanufacturers are environmentally beneficial. They conserve materials, energy, and manufacturing capacity. Further, they dispose of hazardous or noxious waste safely.”

More information is available online at: http://www.bu.edu/reman/.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit http://www.bu.edu/research.

       

15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations