Nutrition interventions that target mothers alone inadequately address women's needs across their lives: during adolescence, preconception, and in later years of life. They also fail to capture nulliparous women. The extent to which nutrition interventions effectively reach women throughout the life course is not well documented. In this comprehensive narrative review, we summarized the impact and delivery platforms of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions targeting adolescent girls, women of reproductive age (nonpregnant, nonlactating), pregnant and lactating women, women with young children <5 y, and older women, with a focus on nutrition interventions delivered in low- and middle-income countries. We found that although there were many effective interventions that targeted women's nutrition, they largely targeted women who were pregnant and lactating or with young children. There were major gaps in the targeting of interventions to older women. For the delivery platforms, community-based settings, compared with facility-based settings, more equitably reached women across the life course, including adolescents, women of reproductive age, and older women. Nutrition-sensitive approaches were more often delivered in community-based settings; however, the evidence of their impact on women's nutritional outcomes was less clear. We also found major research and programming gaps relative to targeting overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease. We conclude that focused efforts on women during pregnancy and in the first couple of years postpartum fail to address the interrelation and compounding nature of nutritional disadvantages that are perpetuated across many women's lives. In order for policies and interventions to more effectively address inequities faced by women, and not only women as mothers, it is essential that they reflect on how, when, and where to engage with women across the life course.
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.
While the rates of the leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and lung disease, are similar in women and men, women have different experiences. Lung cancer has overtaken all other types of cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women, followed by breast cancer, colorectal, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers. While smoking is the major cause of lung cancer, amongst nonsmoking women the risk of developing cancer is three times greater than amongst nonsmoking men. Despite this, breast cancer remains the commonest cancer in women in developed countries, and is one of the more important chronic diseases of women, while cervical cancer remains one of the commonest cancers in developing countries, associated with human papilloma virus (HPV), an important sexually transmitted disease. HPV vaccine together with screening offers the promise of controlling these diseases. Other important health issues for women include cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, osteoporosis and anemia. A major impediment to advancing women's health has been their underrepresentation in research studies, an inequity being addressed in the United States and other western nations by the establishment of centers of excellence in women's health research and large scale clinical trials such as the Women's Health Initiative.
A number of health and medical research advocates, such as the Society for Women's Health Research in the United States, support this broader definition, rather than merely issues specific to human female anatomy to include areas where biological sex differences between women and men exist. Women also need health care more and access the health care system more than do men. While part of this is due to their reproductive and sexual health needs, they also have more chronic non-reproductive health issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes and osteoporosis. Another important perspective is realising that events across the entire life cycle (or life-course), from in utero to aging effect the growth, development and health of women. The life-course perspective is one of the key strategies of the World Health Organization.
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).
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Iodine is needed for normal mental development of the baby, but it can be difficult to get enough from food. Ways of increasing iodine intake include using iodised salt, eating fish and seafood weekly (see your health professional for advice about safe types and amounts of fish), or using a multivitamin supplement that contains iodine and is safe for pregnancy.
The effect of education programs on nutrition outcomes is difficult to assess because programs often have poor baseline data or nutrition outcomes are not evaluated (174, 182). Studies that used longitudinal analyses and “natural” experiments (e.g., before and after a national education policy) found that education was associated with reduced fertility (183, 184), and delayed early marriages and pregnancies (184–187). The impact was more significant for higher levels of education (185). However, 1 study in Malawi identified negative associations between education and timing of first birth, although these findings were largely not statistically significant (188). Secondary education for adolescents and women of reproductive age also showed no impact on women's empowerment (184), although it did show an impact on improved literacy and leadership (174). Educational interventions that provided conditional cash transfers (CCTs) and school feeding, as well as other forms of social protection to families of enrolled girls, were associated with greater school enrollment and attendance (189–191), improved test scores (189, 190), reduced gender gaps (192), and reduced hunger (190, 191).
The extent to which interventions target women more generally, as opposed to just mothers, is not well documented. It requires reflecting on “Who is the woman in women's nutrition?” to identify which women are actually targeted in nutrition interventions, which are not, how they are reached, and gaps in policies and interventions to reach women who are missed. To address this, in this comprehensive narrative review, we 1) summarize existing knowledge about interventions targeting women's health and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries, 2) identify gaps in current delivery platforms that are intended to reach women and address their health and nutrition, and 3) determine strategies to reshape policies and programs to reach all women, at all stages of their lives, with a particular focus on women in low- and middle-income countries.
Eat healthy fats. According to the American Heart Association, women should get at least five to 10 percent of total daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids (equal to 12 to 20 grams), and between 0.5 and 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, depending on individual risk for heart disease. Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids include sunflower, safflower, corn, cottonseed and soybean oils. And good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnuts, flaxseed, and their oils. Talk with your health care professional about how much of these beneficial oils you should be getting, how you can best incorporate them into your diet and whether or not you should be taking them in supplement form.