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Disparities in Female Health Care

This guide aims to address the gaps in medical research that contribute to female health disparity

Sex as a Biological VariableX and Y sex chromosomes

To address the women's health gap in medical research, the National Institute of Health (NIH) introduced a policy in 2016 that requires studies to consider sex as a biological variable (SABV) to be eligible for NIH funding. The policy encourages researchers to include female subjects (human, animal, or cell) or provide strong evidence explaining why the study needs to focus only on one sex.



NIH Image Collection on Flickr


For in-depth information about the NIH's policies on SABV and inclusion in research, you can read more on the NIH's website.

  • 1990- NIH's Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) was established
  • 1993- NIH's Revitalization Act of 1993: Required NIH-funded research to include women and minorities as study participants
  • 2002- The Specialized Centers of Research (SCOR) on Sex Differences program began to revise clinical care recommendations based on how diseases affected females and males differently
  • 2014- NIH director Dr. Fancis Collins and ORWH director Dr. Janine Clayton published an article on considering sex as a biological variable (SABV) in animal and cell research
  • 2016- NIH Policy on Sex as Biological Variable, which required researchers to account for the effect of sex on health and disease throughout the research process was introduced
  • 2020- ORWH researchers published a progress report on the implementation of SABV into different disciplines of biomedical research and concluded with confirmation about the importance of SABV

Searching the Literature

Since the NIH's publication regarding SABV, "sex as a biological variable" has become a popular key phrase within the literature. Articles discussing the implementation of the SABV policy will commonly use this phrase and its acronym while studies researching sex differences use the phrase along with the proper subject headings and search terms related to their specific topic. 

Keywords MeSH CINAHL Notes
"Sex as a biological variable" OR SABV Sex Characteristics Sex Factors Keep in mind that SABV is an acronym that may be used to refer to other concepts in different contexts and may return some nonrelevant results.
NIH policy National Institutes of Health (U.S.) National Institutes of Health (U.S.) Try pairing NIH policy search terms with terms form your area of interest to find studies focused on a specific initiative.
Animal studies or Animal research Animal Experimentation Animal studies Some databases like PsychInfo will allow you to filter your search by study population where you can select for animal studies after you run your search.
Cell studies Cells Cells Cell studies are so common place in biological research that using key search terms for "cell studies" to find discussion surrounding their use may be more effective than subject headings.
Example Searches

Click on the highlighted links to see the search or copy and paste this search into the suggested database.

CINAHL: ("sex factors") AND (hospital readmissions)

Embase: ('sex as a biological variable' OR sabv) AND 'animal study'/exp

PubMed: ("sex as a biological variable") AND (research design)



For more relevant databases to search, you can browse through Gumberg's health science and biology resources.


Additional Reading