Micronutrient supplementation programs for vitamin A, iron and folic acid, calcium, zinc, and multiple micronutrients effectively impacted the micronutrient status of pregnant and lactating women, as well as women of reproductive age and adolescent girls (13, 14, 33, 35–48). Interventions making use of multiple micronutrients were more effective at changing plasma micronutrient concentrations than interventions focused solely on 1 nutrient alone (38, 42). In countries with comprehensive programs for iron supplementation during pregnancy, anemia prevalence dropped (1, 49). Positive health impacts of supplementation were most notable among pregnant women who were deficient and at risk of low intake (43, 50). However, there were some studies that showed inconsistent or limited evidence for the effectiveness of supplementation on other maternal health outcomes (31, 51–58).
Third, of the interventions that were evaluated, many interventions targeted women who were pregnant, lactating, or with young children <5 y of age. We do not refute the important focus on mothers and their children as a group deserving of special attention, given women's increased nutrient needs during pregnancy and lactation and the intergenerational consequences during this period. However, even the interventions that focused on maternal nutrition often only reported on birth and nutrition outcomes of the child, and not those of the mother. In addition, although there were interventions that targeted adolescent girls and women of reproductive age, they were fewer and less well evaluated than interventions that targeted women as mothers. This aligns with findings from other research which illustrated a higher proportion of programs targeting pregnant and lactating women and women with young children (209). We also found major gaps in the targeting of interventions for older women. With growing rates of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable diseases, in addition to undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, it is essential to think outside of the maternal-focused paradigm to reach women at all life stages.
Our review highlighted how a focus on delivery platforms could indicate who is missed by different nutrition interventions, by evaluating where there is overlap or divergence in where interventions are delivered (as represented in the Venn diagram in Figure 1). Our findings showed that a large proportion of nutrition-specific interventions were delivered at clinic-based settings or community-based health posts. Health centers are important delivery platforms, particularly for pregnant and lactating women (113, 210). However, only half of women worldwide even attend the appropriate number of antenatal care visits (with nearly 86% of women attending 1 visit) and only 59% receive appropriate postnatal care (211). Other delivery platforms, such as schools and universities, were more effective at reaching some adolescents and women of reproductive age. However, interventions delivered at “facilities” (schools, health clinics, health posts) require participation with those facilities, and participation is often limited because of time, costs, distance, and other responsibilities, including work and childcare (116). Facilities-based care is also more likely to miss certain groups, including older women.
Anaemia is a major global health problem for women. Women are affected more than men, in which up to 30% of women being found to be anaemic and 42% of pregnant women. Anaemia is linked to a number of adverse health outcomes including a poor pregnancy outcome and impaired cognitive function (decreased concentration and attention). The main cause of anaemia is iron deficiency. In United States women iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) affects 37% of pregnant women, but globally the prevalence is as high as 80%. IDA starts in adolescence, from excess menstrual blood loss, compounded by the increased demand for iron in growth and suboptimal dietary intake. In the adult woman, pregnancy leads to further iron depletion.
The delivery platforms of birth spacing and family planning interventions were often associated with health clinics and community health posts (148–150). Many interventions targeted lactating women during the follow-up with their young children (148, 151–153). Home visits by community health workers and service provision at community health posts and mobile clinics were also used to target women and adolescents who were married, and were found to be effective at increasing use of contraception (150, 154). School-based programs were also effective at reaching adolescent girls and increased their knowledge about contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections, use of contraception, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (155). In high-income settings, school-based interventions were most effective at reducing pregnancies and repeated pregnancies among adolescents when contraception was also available on-site (107). This might have implications for their effectiveness in low- and middle-income countries, as well. In addition, formative work of 2 ongoing studies suggested that mass media, mobile devices, texting, and community mobilization could also be used as platforms to reach adolescent girls and women of reproductive age (156, 157). Community-based programs that target men, families, and communities, beyond those that reach married and postpartum women alone, have potential to change cultural norms and enhance women's health outcomes; however, these are not well captured in the literature.
If you do decide to diet, you still need to maintain good nutrition. You want to cut back on calories, not nutrients. And while you want to reduce fat, don't eliminate it entirely. Some studies suggest that older women who maintain a higher body-fat percentage are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and other conditions associated with menopause. Fat cells also retain estrogen, which helps maintain the calcium in your bones. Younger women should be careful, too: a low body fat percentage can lead to infertility; below 17 percent may lead to missed periods, also known as amenorrhea.
Women's experience of health and disease differ from those of men, due to unique biological, social and behavioural conditions. Biological differences vary all the way from phenotype to the cellular, and manifest unique risks for the development of ill health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Women's health is an example of population health, the health of a specific defined population.
Family planning and birth spacing can influence the nutrition of adolescent girls, women of reproductive age, and women with young children by reducing the number of adverse outcomes associated with pregnancy and abortion. For adolescent girls, in particular, pregnancy is associated with increased risk of birth complications, anemia, hindered linear growth, and loss of educational attainment (8, 107). Delaying early child marriages and providing access to family planning, particularly for young wives, allow girls to achieve their maximum growth potential (8, 142). However, for women with young children, there was scarce evidence from observational studies to suggest that greater birth spacing had any impact on anthropometric status (BMI, weight), micronutrient status (anemia, as well as serum zinc, copper, magnesium, and folate), and maternal mortality outcomes (13, 107, 143–147). Findings were mixed, which was attributed to sample size and other confounding factors such as maternal age, breastfeeding status, and supplementation status (146, 147). The strongest evidence of the impact of birth spacing on women's nutrition was related to increased risk of preterm delivery and maternal anemia in interpregnancy intervals <6 mo (14, 146, 147) and increased risk of pre-eclampsia in intervals >5 y (107).
Women often received micronutrient supplements during antenatal and postnatal care (13, 35–42, 51, 60), and, as such, supplementation was often targeted to pregnant and lactating women. The delivery of micronutrient supplementation commonly occurred in health care settings for at-home consumption. Community-based antenatal care that involved home visits by community health workers was also a common delivery platform for supplementation delivery. There were some studies that reported micronutrient supplementation to adolescents, women of reproductive age, pregnant women, and women with young children outside of the antenatal care setting. These included primary health care clinics, home visits, community centers, pharmacies, and workplaces (32, 38–43, 45, 52, 53). Adolescent girls were also reached by community- and school-based programs (26, 41, 46). School-based programs were more efficacious in reducing rates of anemia among adolescent girls, compared with the community-based interventions (26, 46). However, many of the reported studies to date involved small samples of adolescents in controlled settings, and additional research is needed on the effectiveness of these programs (59, 62).
Women need more of this mineral because they lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron each month during menstruation. Without enough iron, iron deficiency anemia can develop and cause symptoms that include fatigue and headaches. After menopause, body iron generally increases. Therefore, iron deficiency in women older than 50 years of age may indicate blood loss from another source and should be checked by a physician.
Community centers (including banks, town halls, post offices) ↑ knowledge about health and nutrition, ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ intake of MN (except for heme-Fe), ↑ HH intake of fruits, vegetables, and ASF, ↑/NC intake of fats and sweets, ↑ weight gain (greater among high BMI), ↑ participation in social networks, ↑ self-confidence, ↑ control over resources ↑ knowledge about health and nutrition, ↑ HH food security, ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ HH intake of fruits, vegetables, and ASF, ↑/NC intake of fats and sweets, ↑ participation in social networks, ↑ self-confidence, ↑ control over resources, ↑ ANC coverage ↑ knowledge about health, NC hypertension, ↓/NC missed meals, NC food sufficiency, ↑ health care utilization
Our findings identified gaps and limitations in the evaluation, scope, targeting, and delivery platforms of nutrition interventions in low- and middle-income countries. First, the monitoring and evaluation of nutrition programs that reported on women's nutrition outcomes was generally inadequate. Many of the studies we identified included small-scale efficacy trials. Although there were many large-scale programs that targeted women and adolescent girls with nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches, they lacked rigorous evaluation. Whether the evidence about women's outcomes was limited because they are not systematically measured or because they are not well reported is not clear. Negative results are often not published, and many evaluations of nutrition interventions that are conducted by the same groups responsible for implementing them are typically presented positively. This may have also skewed our findings. More intentional research-quality program evaluation, including of large-scale programs, would provide a stronger evidence base. Of the studies identified in this review, many reported on short-term findings such as changes in knowledge, dietary behaviors, and program coverage. They were limited in their ability to report clinical and anthropometric outcomes for women, the duration of those outcomes, and the feasibility of scaling up programs. There is also a need for systematic, long-term evaluations of interventions whose effects on nutrition outcomes are more distal (e.g., nutrition education compared with micronutrient supplementation). The effects of multisectoral interventions are even more complex to measure. However, frameworks exist to evaluate complex interventions (102) and could be utilized to evaluate the impact of interventions across the life course.