This paper examines the hitherto mostly unrecognised relationship between gender, health and children; its significance for nursing practice and how it has been considered in nursing research.
Holistic nursing practice with children requires adequate assessment and consideration of all potential influences on children's lives. Socioeconomic disparities have received widespread attention and gender inequalities in adult health have been studied in some depth. The links between gender, health and children, however, have received little consideration. The paper first considers this context in depth; it then applies the context to research in practice.
A systematic literature search was undertaken on four mainstream nursing research journals over 38 months up to February 2007. A total of 567 articles met the key word searches. Duplicates, opinion pieces and articles not focusing on children were removed. The remaining 23 nursing studies relevant to child health were examined for their gender sensitivity.
Full consideration of gender issues was found largely to be absent in nursing research on children. Eight studies gave specific consideration to gender relevance, where boys and girls may have responded differently to care. Only six studies specifically addressed gender sensitivity. Allowing children a voice, however, was a strength in these studies, with 18 reflecting children's views directly.
Major gaps still exist in research and theorisation relating to children, health and gender. These need to be acknowledged and investigated, particularly in relation to how they might impact on nursing care.
Nursing practice and research needs to account for all potential health issues, of which gender may often be important.