It has affected more than 200 million women and girls who are alive today. The practice is concentrated in some 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.[77] FGC affects many religious faiths, nationalities, and socioeconomic classes and is highly controversial. The main arguments advanced to justify FGC are hygiene, fertility, the preservation of chastity, an important rite of passage, marriageability and enhanced sexual pleasure of male partners.[11] The amount of tissue removed varies considerably, leading the WHO and other bodies to classify FGC into four types. These range from the partial or total removal of the clitoris with or without the prepuce (clitoridectomy) in Type I, to the additional removal of the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (Type II) to narrowing of the vaginal orifice (introitus) with the creation of a covering seal by suturing the remaining labial tissue over the urethra and introitus, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). In this type a small opening is created to allow urine and menstrual blood to be discharged. Type 4 involves all other procedures, usually relatively minor alterations such as piercing.[78]
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's life expectancy is greater than that of men, and they have lower death rates throughout life, regardless of race and geographic region. Historically though, women had higher rates of mortality, primarily from maternal deaths (death in childbirth). In industrialised countries, particularly the most advanced, the gender gap narrowed and was reversed following the industrial revolution. [6] Despite these differences, in many areas of health, women experience earlier and more severe disease, and experience poorer outcomes.[18]
For this comprehensive narrative review, we evaluated both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. Nutrition-specific approaches are those that address the immediate determinants of nutrition (e.g., food and nutrient intake, diet-related practices and behaviors, disease, etc.), whereas nutrition-sensitive approaches are those that address the underlying determinants of nutrition (e.g., food security, access to resources, safe and hygienic environments, adequate health services, etc.) (5, 12). We evaluated the following nutrition-specific interventions described by Bhutta et al. (13, 14): nutrition counseling and education, micronutrient supplementation and fortification, protein and energy supplementation, and lipid-based supplementation. We also included the following nutrition-sensitive approaches described by Ruel and Alderman (5) and Bhutta et al. (14): health care; family planning; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); empowerment; income-generation; education; and social protection. For each intervention, we 1) described the scale and coverage of the intervention, when available; 2) summarized the evidence of effectiveness for women's health and nutrition outcomes; and 3) described and evaluated the target population and delivery platforms, as described in the published articles and as summarized in Table 1. The delivery of interventions included the physical platforms, as well as the adherence and the implementation challenges of the different interventions.
Nutritionists recommend choosing a rainbow of fruits and vegetables because each one provides a unique blend of nutrients. Within the color spectrum, yellow or orange veggies are great sources of vitamin A for skin and eye health and better immunity against infection. At the top of the list are carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and the many types of squash. While it takes just one whole carrot or six baby carrots to make one serving (one-half cup), you’ll need only half a starchy sweet potato.
However, many fortification programs in low- and middle-income countries are regional or voluntary and, thus, might have a limited nutritional impact at the national level (76). Although many efficacy trials show benefits of fortification interventions, scaling up fortification is limited by inadequate coverage and resources (13, 77, 78). Evidence for impact is also affected by suboptimal programming, low-bioavailability fortificants (e.g., reduced iron powder), poor consumption rates, weak enforcement mechanisms, and inadequate monitoring (76, 79, 80). More research is needed to evaluate the long-term impact of fortification and biofortification programs (75). In addition, there is also growing concern about fortifying and promoting food vehicles that have adverse health consequences when consumed in excess, such as salt and sugar, given the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease (81–83).
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.
Fiber is an important part of an overall healthy eating plan. Good sources of fiber include fortified cereal, many whole-grain breads, beans, fruits (especially berries), dark green leafy vegetables, all types of squash, and nuts. Look on the Nutrition Facts label for fiber content in processed foods like cereals and breads. Use the search tool on this USDA page to find the amount of fiber in whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
Food fortification is one of the most cost-effective strategies to improve micronutrient status through a variety of food vehicles, including staples, condiments, and processed foods (63, 64). Common fortifiable micronutrients include iron, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and iodine, although B vitamins and vitamin C are also used as fortificants (33, 64). Food fortification reduced anemia and iron deficiency anemia, and improved vitamin A, folate, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, zinc, and iodine status of women of reproductive age and adolescents (13, 46, 61, 63–74). Vitamin D and calcium fortification were found to reduce the risk of osteoporosis among older women, especially for those exposed to inadequate sunlight (63, 64). Biofortification efforts, including those that involved breeding or genetic modification of plants to improve micronutrient content, have also shown improvements in the vitamin A and iron status of women (64, 75). Similar to micronutrient supplementation, women and girls with low micronutrient status were most likely to benefit.

All of the identified studies focused on LNSs for pregnant and lactating women through antenatal care–based and –affiliated delivery platforms (97–101). These studies relied on antenatal care to recruit mothers but delivered the intervention through home visits. There was no evidence evaluating use of LNSs for women who were not pregnant or lactating. The majority of studies evaluating LNS interventions involved children with severe or moderate acute malnutrition. Although LNS supplementation could be an intervention to provide essential nutrients to women and girls, it is expensive. Filling energy gaps using local foods or other commodities can often be done at a lower cost (97). LNS supplementation should be limited to contexts in which cheaper, more sustainable solutions are not available.
Women and men differ in their chromosomal makeup, protein gene products, genomic imprinting, gene expression, signaling pathways, and hormonal environment. All of these necessitate caution in extrapolating information derived from biomarkers from one sex to the other.[6] Women are particularly vulnerable at the two extremes of life. Young women and adolescents are at risk from STIs, pregnancy and unsafe abortion, while older women often have few resources and are disadvantaged with respect to men, and also are at risk of dementia and abuse, and generally poor health.[17]
Interventions resulting in public infrastructure changes were found to be less effective than household-based interventions; however, both are important aspects of improved health outcomes for women (128, 130). Public water infrastructure requires regular maintenance and periodic replacement and water from these sources is often contaminated (130). However, even public water points that provide good-quality water have had minimal impacts on health outcomes (136). One review estimated that water-source interventions were associated with a 27% reduction in diarrhea risk at all ages, whereas household-based interventions were associated with a 43% reduction (128). This could be associated with bias and confounding, as measuring WASH outcomes is not a blinded process (128). The differential impact could also be related to practice. As compared with public water sources, home water connections were associated with greater odds of handwashing and fecal waste disposal (136). As a significant portion of diarrheal disease is a result of person-to-person transmission and poor hygiene, interventions that improve domestic hygiene behaviors can have a significant impact (136). Behavior change communication and resource provision, e.g., soap and point-of-use water treatment resources, were also important and sustainable aspects of WASH interventions (131, 137).
Nutritionists recommend choosing a rainbow of fruits and vegetables because each one provides a unique blend of nutrients. Within the color spectrum, yellow or orange veggies are great sources of vitamin A for skin and eye health and better immunity against infection. At the top of the list are carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and the many types of squash. While it takes just one whole carrot or six baby carrots to make one serving (one-half cup), you’ll need only half a starchy sweet potato.
Native to East Asia, soybeans have been a major source of protein for people in Asia for more than 5,000 years. Soybeans are high in protein (more than any other legume) and fiber, low in carbohydrates and are nutrient-dense. Soybeans contain substances called phytoestrogens, which can significantly lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise your "good" HDL cholesterol.
B12: Like folic acid, B12 is essential for healthy nervous system development and function. Pregnant women who are vegans or vegetarians may fall short on B12, since it is present in animal protein and to a lesser extent in dairy. Teenage and adult women need 2.4 mcg. Recommended levels rise to 2.6 mcg for pregnant women and 2.8 mcg for lactating women.
Evaluations of protein-energy supplementation were limited to specific situations and contexts, and few studies evaluated national-scale programs (14, 33). National-level protein-energy supplementation programs for women and adolescent girls are expensive and challenging to implement compared with other efficacious interventions (33). Procuring, preparing, and distributing food and appropriately targeting women most in need (e.g., women below the poverty line, women who have or are at high risk of malnutrition, etc.) present challenges to protein-energy supplementation interventions (33).
Manson, JoAnn E.; Chlebowski, Rowan T.; Stefanick, Marcia L.; Aragaki, Aaron K.; Rossouw, Jacques E.; Prentice, Ross L.; Anderson, Garnet; Howard, Barbara V.; Thomson, Cynthia A.; LaCroix, Andrea Z.; Wactawski-Wende, Jean; Jackson, Rebecca D.; Limacher, Marian; Margolis, Karen L.; Wassertheil-Smoller, Sylvia; Beresford, Shirley A.; Cauley, Jane A.; Eaton, Charles B.; Gass, Margery; Hsia, Judith; Johnson, Karen C.; Kooperberg, Charles; Kuller, Lewis H.; Lewis, Cora E.; Liu, Simin; Martin, Lisa W.; Ockene, Judith K.; O'sullivan, Mary Jo; Powell, Lynda H.; Simon, Michael S.; Van Horn, Linda; Vitolins, Mara Z.; Wallace, Robert B. (2 October 2013). "Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Health Outcomes During the Intervention and Extended Poststopping Phases of the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Trials". JAMA. 310 (13): 1353–1368. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.278040. PMC 3963523. PMID 24084921.
In our review, we found that fortification interventions that provided fortified foods reached women of all life stages through home visits, community distribution centers, local markets, and retail stores. Delivery of fortified foods in school-based programs, at work, and in maternal–child health centers were also used to target school-age children, women of reproductive age, and pregnant and lactating women that were engaged with those facilities (37, 72–74, 84). There was mixed evidence that consumption of fortified foods reached all socioeconomic groups. Some studies showed differences in consumption between nonpoor and extremely poor, and between urban and rural stakeholders (33, 64, 85). Women who have restricted access to markets, depend largely on locally grown foods, are in areas with underdeveloped distribution channels, or have limited purchasing power, might have limited access to fortified foods (64). Additional research is needed to address implementation gaps and to determine the best platforms for reaching high-risk populations.

Educational interventions most often targeted school-age children and adolescent girls, and there were few examples of programs targeting women of reproductive age (174). The majority of education interventions were delivered in formal school-based settings (174). However, this is a “selective” delivery platform given that not all adolescents attend schools (193). School fees and distance to school are major barriers to school enrollment (174, 194). Educational interventions need to be sensitive to the reasons why girls are not in school, e.g., work, and to the hours and locations that might make education interventions more accessible (193). Nonformal education, alternative education, mobile schools, and literacy programs can target women and girls not in school, although these approaches were less common and not as well evaluated (174). Interventions that target girls who are no longer in school provide valuable examples about how such interventions could be delivered to hard-to-reach groups (182).
For healthy bones and teeth, women need to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods every day. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps to reduce the risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily. Some calcium-rich foods include low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese, sardines, tofu (if made with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified foods including juices and cereals. Adequate amounts of vitamin D also are important, and the need for both calcium and vitamin D increases as women get older. Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, eggs and fortified foods and beverages, such as some yogurts and juices.
Iron: Essential for healthy blood cells, iron becomes especially important when girls begin to menstruate. With each period, a woman loses small amounts of iron. “About 10% of American women are iron deficient,” says Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Maine and co-editor of Nutritional Concerns of Women (CRC Press, 2003). “About 5% have iron deficiency anemia.” Symptoms of low iron include fatigue, impaired immunity, and poor performance at school or work.
Calcium is extremely important after menopause when your osteoporosis risk increases. But it’s actually vital to women’s health at every age, particularly while the body is still making bone. For optimal bone health, you need three daily servings of dairy products (for example, eight ounces of milk or yogurt, or one and a half ounces of cheese per serving), which also provide other nutrients, like protein, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. “If you can tolerate dairy, low-fat sources are extremely important,” says Hincman. Besides low-fat or skim milk, try calcium-rich Greek-style yogurt, which supplies twice the protein with less or none of the sugar of traditional yogurt varieties, she says.

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.
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.

Consult your health care professional. Women of childbearing age may want to consider taking folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected with neural tube defects. Many women and teenage girls don't get enough calcium or vitamin D, both of which are critical to healthy bones and avoiding osteoporosis. Some people with diabetes appear to benefit from chromium. Vegetarians, especially vegans, may want to consider supplements to obtain nutrients they aren't getting from animal products.
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