Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to page options Skip directly to site content

WISEWOMAN Briefing Document

WISEWOMAN Briefing document cover.

Imagine a world where our mothers, daughters, and sisters all have access to health care and the wisdom needed to stay healthy and strong.

Here's a solution.

In a decade, CDC-funded WISEWOMAN projects have reached thousands of low-income women across America, giving them the opportunity to reduce their risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems. Nearly 73% of these women are overweight or obese, and 27% of them smoke. One-third are from racial and ethnic minority populations. Because WISEWOMAN piggybacks onto the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, it offers low-income women one-stop shopping so they can be screened for breast and cervical cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other problems that are all-too-common and yet often preventable and treatable. WISEWOMAN also gives these vulnerable women the knowledge and tools they need to make physical activity and good nutrition a regular part of their lives. Such changes can have lasting effects on their health.

Photo of elderly woman with caption: Millions of middle-aged and older women in America are uninsured, cut off from health services that could save their lives and prevent costly, debilitating illnesses down the road.WISEWOMAN works because....

  • It reaches women who don't have health insurance.
  • It is making a real difference in the lives of American women who are usually left behind.
  • WISEWOMAN reduces the estimated chances that these women will die of heart disease, the leading cause of death for women.
  • It advances our nation's health goals with interventions that show promising results.
  • It pools the resources of traditional and nontraditional partners.
  • The program has grown dramatically during the past 10 years, reaching thousands more women each year.


WISEWOMAN consists of 21 CDC-funded WISEWOMAN programs in 20 states (2 programs in Alaska) and tribal organizations. Their main goal is to prevent heart disease among women aged 40–64 years who have little or no health insurance. All WISEWOMAN projects provide women with blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Some projects also offer tests for diabetes and osteoporosis. Women are not just screened and referred. They can also take advantage of lifestyle programs that target poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and smoking, such as healthy cooking classes, fitness competitions, or quit-smoking courses. The interventions vary from project to project, and all are designed to promote lasting, healthy changes.

Here's proof WISEWOMAN works. On average—

  • Women in the WISEWOMAN program have maintained their weight for 1 year, countering the trend of weight gain that is particularly pronounced in low-income populations.
  • Their blood pressure has come down (both systolic and diastolic levels have declined).
  • Their cholesterol levels have declined.
  • 6% of smokers have quit.
  • Their estimated risk for dying of heart disease has declined significantly.
  • They are more likely to return for regular mammograms.
Bar graph of reduction in smoking rates among White, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaskan Native WISEWOMAN participants at 1–Yr Follow-up.

[A text version of this graphic is also available.]

Bar graph of reduction in White, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native Participants’ Estimated Risk for Death Within the Next 5 Years from Heart Disease or Stroke at 1-Year Follow-up.

A text version of this graphic is also available.]

Photo of African American womanA woman's health should not depend on where she lives, her status in life, or the color of her skin.

WISEWOMAN is a wise investment.

Health economists generally agree that if an intervention can save 1 year of life for less than $50,000, it is cost-effective. Bypass surgery is one good example. It costs $26,000 per year of life saved and thus is considered cost-effective. So, in economic terms, the WISEWOMAN program is a real bargain, with costs falling far below the $50,000 threshold. The WISEWOMAN program found that its interventions have extended women's lives at a cost of $4,400 per estimated year of life saved.

Bar Graph of Cost Per Estimated Year of Life Saved; Comparison of Cost of WISEWOMAN Intervention and Heart Bypass Surgery.

[A text version of this graphic is also available.]

One-stop shopping with benefits that could last a lifetime.

Together, WISEWOMAN and the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provide Pap tests, clinical breast exams, and screenings for heart disease risk factors—often in just one visit. Since 2000, WISEWOMAN has

  • Reached more than 50,000 women in need.
  • Provided more than 77,500 health screenings and nearly 135,000 lifestyle intervention sessions to these women.
  • Identified 5,336 new cases of high blood pressure, 5,773 new cases of high cholesterol, and 791 new cases of high blood sugar.
Photo of five women of different ages and ethnicities.

A good value with vast opportunities.

  • WISEWOMAN offers opportunities for a healthy life to women who are usually left behind and who are at high risk for serious health problems.
  • WISEWOMAN costs about $400 per participant, but the potential benefits are worth much more.
  • WISEWOMAN's holistic approach has helped thousands of women become more active, eat healthier, and lower their risk for developing heart disease.
  • WISWOMAN has shown impressive growth and ability to sustain, with the support of partners at the grassroots level.
  • The one-stop-shopping concept of WISEWOMAN is a model for building other health programs that want to offer more comprehensive health services by piggy-backing onto an existing program.
  • WISEWOMAN is helping America reach its Healthy People 2010 goals for reducing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and other serious health problems.

Meet Jacqueline. . .

Small diet changes, big results.

"I've been trying to lower my blood sugar for years," says Jacqueline Noyes, 60, of Sutton, Vermont. It wasn't until she began nutrition counseling with Ladies First, a WISEWOMAN program, that she was really able to do it. She's done so well she got a personal letter from her doctor congratulating her for such a good job.

"I really am pleased with the nutritionist. If I hadn't been to him I wouldn't have lowered my blood sugar." Jacqueline's doctor was the first to tell her about the new Ladies First nutrition program. She found it easier than she thought it would be to make some key diet changes, like eating more oatmeal, wheat bread, one percent milk, fruit and beans. "They fill me up, so I don't have to eat as much anymore," she says.

She recommends the program to anyone. "It's not drastic. You make little changes here and there," she says. And she's proof those little changes can make a big difference.

Reprinted with permission
Ladies First, a WISEWOMAN program
Vermont Department of Health
Burlington, Vermont

WISEWOMAN started as a demonstration program in 3 states in 1995. Today, it includes 15 projects in 14 states.

Map of United States showing the year of WISEWOMAN project launch dates in 15 states.

[A text version of this graphic is also available.]

Single bar graph consisting of varying colors correlated to previous Map’s state colors showing cumulative number of newly screened women in the 15 state WISEWOMAN projects.

[A text version of this graphic is also available.]

Single bar graph consisting of varying colors correlated to previous Map's state colors showing cumulative number of WISEWOMAN Intervention Sessions Attended.

[A text version of this graphic is also available.


A good overview of the WISEWOMAN program and our findings thus far can be found in the Journal of Women's Health, Vol. 13, No. 5, 2004. For more details about WISEWOMAN's successes, other published references, and information to support this document, please visit our Web site at