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Keeping an eye on women's health

June 07, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

It's a girl thing.

A new exhibit unveiled Tuesday at Discovery Station uses a roomful of interactive displays to teach the public about women's bodies and how to keep them healthy - and entertains visitors in the process.

Developed by the National Health Sciences Consortium, "The Changing Face of Women's Health" takes visitors on a high-tech exploration of issues that affect women - from societal images of the "ideal" woman to interactive quizzes designed to tell the visitor more about herself than she already knows.

At one display, visitors plug in their birth dates and get a printout of their life expectancies and a timeline of events that have occurred during their lifetimes. Another display helps visitors determine their risk for heart disease or stroke. Another shows subtle details that can make a home unsafe.

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Yet another features photos of the Spice Girls, Madonna and the women of "Baywatch." Its subject matter? Society's obsession with breasts.

And while visitors are busy pushing buttons and watching lights, the goal is that they'll also be learning how to protect their health.

For years, discussions of women's health "always had to do with reproduction," said B. Marie Byers, executive director of Discovery Station. "We're now looking at her whole life."

Particularly, the exhibit focuses on how genetics and lifestyle can affect one's health.

"Genetics, you can't do anything about," she said.

Lifestyle is a different story.

"You can prevent a lot of problems and heartaches with your body, but you have to be informed," she said.

A display on osteoporosis, a disease that reduces bone density, gives visitors a chance to look at the brittle bone of an 84-year-old woman who suffered from the disease. Byers said it prompted one person present when the exhibit was assembled to declare, "I'm going home and drink some milk."

Assembling the exhibit was a challenge, Byers added. Originally designed to cover 4,000 square feet, it had to be squeezed into a considerably smaller area at Discovery Station. People had to be hired to unpack it from two tractor-trailers and then the crates had to be stored - all of which, Byers said, was costing the nonprofit money.

But they got the exhibit at a discount, thanks to Byers' contacts at the Maryland Science Center. What usually would cost $60,000, Discovery Station got with a $25,000 grant from the Washington County Gaming Commission.

"The Changing Face of Women's Health" will be on display until Sept. 10, when the exhibit leaves Hagerstown for Orlando, Fla.

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