The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared last week National Women’s Health Week (May 14-20th), but in reality we should be taking care of ourselves and have this awareness all year round, right? To kick this month off inspired by women’s health, let’s talk about health, nutrition, and of course answer your questions from Instagram, Twitter, and email from over this year!
Poor nutrition can manifest itself in many ways. The more obvious symptoms of a nutritional deficiency include dull, dry or shedding hair; red, dry, pale or dull eyes; spoon-shaped, brittle or ridged nails; bleeding gums; swollen, red, cracked lips; flaky skin that doesn't heal quickly; swelling in your legs and feet; wasted, weak muscles; memory loss; and fatigue.
Women experience many unique health issues related to reproduction and sexuality and these are responsible for a third of all health problems experienced by women during their reproductive years (aged 15–44), of which unsafe sex is a major risk factor, especially in developing countries. Reproductive health includes a wide range of issues including the health and function of structures and systems involved in reproduction, pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing, including antenatal and perinatal care. Global women's health has a much larger focus on reproductive health than that of developed countries alone, but also infectious diseases such as malaria in pregnancy and non-communicable diseases (NCD). Many of the issues that face women and girls in resource poor regions are relatively unknown in developed countries, such as female genital cutting, and further lack access to the appropriate diagnostic and clinical resources.
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.
Despite these differences, the leading causes of death in the United States are remarkably similar for men and women, headed by heart disease, which accounts for a quarter of all deaths, followed by cancer, lung disease and stroke. While women have a lower incidence of death from unintentional injury (see below) and suicide, they have a higher incidence of dementia (Gronowski and Schindler, Table I).
It takes a lot of discipline to turn down a cupcake or roll out of your warm bed for a cold morning run. To make staying on track easier, it's important to make a real connection with your motivation, says Tara Gidus, R.D., co-host of Emotional Mojo. So think less about fitting into your skinny jeans or spring break bikini and more about emotional ties to the people you love. “Your relationships will grow stronger when you are physically healthy and taking care of yourself,” she says.
In 2000, the United Nations created Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 to improve maternal health. Target 5A sought to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters from 1990 to 2015, using two indicators, 5.1 the MMR and 5.2 the proportion of deliveries attended by skilled health personnel (physician, nurse or midwife). Early reports indicated MDG 5 had made the least progress of all MDGs. By the target date of 2015 the MMR had only declined by 45%, from 380 to 210, most of which occurred after 2000. However this improvement occurred across all regions, but the highest MMRs were still in Africa and Asia, although South Asia witnessed the largest fall, from 530 to 190 (64%). The smallest decline was seen in the developed countries, from 26 to 16 (37%). In terms of assisted births, this proportion had risen globally from 59 to 71%. Although the numbers were similar for both developed and developing regions, there were wide variations in the latter from 52% in South Asia to 100% in East Asia. The risks of dying in pregnancy in developing countries remains fourteen times higher than in developed countries, but in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the MMR is highest, the risk is 175 times higher. In setting the MDG targets, skilled assisted birth was considered a key strategy, but also an indicator of access to care and closely reflect mortality rates. There are also marked differences within regions with a 31% lower rate in rural areas of developing countries (56 vs. 87%), yet there is no difference in East Asia but a 52% difference in Central Africa (32 vs. 84%). With the completion of the MDG campaign in 2015, new targets are being set for 2030 under the Sustainable Development Goals campaign. Maternal health is placed under Goal 3, Health, with the target being to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70. Amongst tools being developed to meet these targets is the WHO Safe Childbirth Checklist.
Nutrition is particularly important during pregnancy to ensure your health and the health of the baby. It's normal to gain weight during pregnancy—not just because of the growing fetus, but because you'll need stored fat for breast-feeding. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a gain of 25 to 35 pounds in women of normal weight when they get pregnant; 28 to 40 pounds in underweight women; and at least 15 pounds in women who are overweight when they get pregnant. The IOM has not given a recommendation for an upper limit for obese women, but some experts cap it as low as 13 pounds. If you fit into this category, discuss how much weight you should gain with your health care professional.
In addition, more research is needed to evaluate the impact of targeting women alone compared with targeting women alongside other members of their families and communities (e.g., with groups of other women, men, husbands, children, parents, in-laws, other family members, other community members, etc.). Interventions that targeted women with their children during child health visits or alongside other members of their communities through community mobilization and mass media campaigns showed improvements in knowledge and some health and nutrition behaviors of women. The inclusion of boys and men, for instance, as well as the inclusion of other family and community members, could enhance the impact and delivery of nutrition interventions for women through support of certain practices, reminders, time-savings, and normalization of nutrition behaviors. However, more research is needed to identify effective targeting mechanisms (i.e., alone or alongside other members of households and communities) and we expect that these will likely need to be context- and content-specific.
Our review found that protein-energy supplementation was largely targeted to pregnant and lactating women (19, 86–88, 90, 91); however, there were some studies that evaluated the delivery of protein-energy supplementation to households (92, 93) and adolescents (46). The only studies we found that evaluated the impact of protein-energy supplementation in older, healthy women were hospital-based studies in high-income countries (96). Delivery platforms varied depending on the target audience. The majority of studies targeted pregnant women through antenatal care or through antenatal care–associated community-based programs. National programs targeting low-income families had broader reach, although they targeted households and not women specifically (92). Additional research is needed for how women might best be reached (94). For programs that provided provisions for women to take home, there was also limited information about how much was shared with other members of the household. School-based programs targeting adolescents could be an important venue to target interventions to adolescents in the future. However, children and adolescents not in school would be missed. Despite limited evidence of impacts of energy and protein supplementation on the health of women, supplementation might be an important complement to other interventions (e.g., nutrition education and counseling) to ensure that women have the resources needed to implement other interventions successfully. Indeed, many large-scale programs for protein-energy supplementation are often complemented with nutrition education and counseling (33).
Female genital mutilation (also referred to as female genital cutting) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons". It has sometimes been referred to as female circumcision, although this term is misleading because it implies it is analogous to the circumcision of the foreskin from the male penis. Consequently, the term mutilation was adopted to emphasise the gravity of the act and its place as a violation of human rights. Subsequently, the term cutting was advanced to avoid offending cultural sensibility that would interfere with dialogue for change. To recognise these points of view some agencies use the composite female genital mutilation/cutting (FMG/C).
The social view of health combined with the acknowledgement that gender is a social determinant of health inform women's health service delivery in countries around the world. Women's health services such as Leichhardt Women's Community Health Centre which was established in 1974 and was the first women's health centre established in Australia is an example of women's health approach to service delivery.
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
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).