The increasing focus on Women's Rights in the United States during the 1980s focused attention on the fact that many drugs being prescribed for women had never actually been tested in women of child-bearing potential, and that there was a relative paucity of basic research into women's health. In response to this the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)[154] in 1990 to address these inequities. In 1993 the National Institutes of Health Revitalisation Act officially reversed US policy by requiring NIH funded phase III clinical trials to include women.[119] This resulted in an increase in women recruited into research studies. The next phase was the specific funding of large scale epidemiology studies and clinical trials focussing on women's health such as the Women's Health Initiative (1991), the largest disease prevention study conducted in the US. Its role was to study the major causes of death, disability and frailty in older women.[155] Despite this apparent progress, women remain underepresented. In 2006 women accounted for less than 25% of clinical trials published in 2004,[156] A follow up study by the same authors five years later found little evidence of improvement.[157] Another study found between 10–47% of women in heart disease clinical trials, despite the prevalence of heart disease in women.[158] Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death amongst women, but while the number of women enrolled in lung cancer studies is increasing, they are still far less likely to be enrolled than men.[119]
Changes in the way research ethics was visualised in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials (1946), led to an atmosphere of protectionism of groups deemed to be vulnerable that was often legislated or regulated. This resulted in the relative underrepresentation of women in clinical trials. The position of women in research was further compromised in 1977, when in response to the tragedies resulting from thalidomide and diethylstilbestrol (DES), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited women of child-bearing years from participation in early stage clinical trials. In practice this ban was often applied very widely to exclude all women.[151][152] Women, at least those in the child-bearing years, were also deemed unsuitable research subjects due to their fluctuating hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle. However, research has demonstrated significant biological differences between the sexes in rates of susceptibility, symptoms and response to treatment in many major areas of health, including heart disease and some cancers. These exclusions pose a threat to the application of evidence-based medicine to women, and compromise to care offered to both women and men.[6][153]

Vickers, M. R; MacLennan, A. H; Lawton, B.; Ford, D.; Martin, J.; Meredith, S. K; DeStavola, B. L; Rose, S.; Dowell, A.; Wilkes, H. C; Darbyshire, J. H; Meade, T. W (4 August 2007). "Main morbidities recorded in the women's international study of long duration oestrogen after menopause (WISDOM): a randomised controlled trial of hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women". BMJ. 335 (7613): 239. doi:10.1136/bmj.39266.425069.AD. PMC 1939792. PMID 17626056.

  Schools (“condition” and delivery platform)  ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ dietary diversity, ↑ HH intake of fruits, vegetables, and ASF, ↑/NC intake of fats and sweets  ↑ knowledge about health and nutrition, ↑ 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 HH 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  ↑ knowledge about health, NC hypertension, ↓ missed meals, ↑ health care utilization 

In the stereotypical Ozzie and Harriet family of the 1950s, men ruled the roost while women ruled the roast. That's no longer true (if it ever was), but in most households women are still in charge of nutrition. They stock the pantry, plan the menus, and fill the plates. In most households it's a good thing, since the average woman knows more about nutrition than the average man. But when it comes to optimal nutrition, there are differences between the sexes. The differences are subtle, but they may affect a man's health.

The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid (a B vitamin) daily to reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other neural-tube defects. Women who are actively trying to get pregnant should consume 600 mcg, and lactating women should consumer 500 mcg. Women of childbearing age should also take care to meet the daily requirements for calcium, fiber, iron, protein and vitamin D. Discuss supplements with a health care professional, however. Iron and vitamin D in particular can be dangerous in high amounts. 

Research from Tufts University nutrition scientists shows that Americans are drinking so much soda and sweet drinks that they provide more daily calories than any other food. Obesity rates are higher for people consuming sweet drinks. Also watch for hidden sugar in the foods you eat. Sugar may appear as corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate or malt syrup, among other forms, on package labels.

Women's empowerment relates to women's ability to make life choices (158). Higher levels of empowerment were associated with increased income, household decision-making, control over resources, and utilization of health resources (5, 158–160). For nutrition outcomes, empowerment was associated with increased income allocated to food expenditures and improved household food security (160, 161). It was also associated with increased dietary diversity, but had no impact on women's BMI (5, 161, 162). For example, mothers’ participation in empowerment activities through Helen Keller International's Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program in Burkina Faso was associated with increased fruit intake (difference-in-differences = 15.8 percentage points, P = 0.02) and nearly statistically significant increases in meat intake and dietary diversity (163). Participation was also associated with decreased prevalence of underweight (difference-in-differences = −8.7 percentage points, P < 0.01) but not overall mean BMI (163). In addition, the EHFP program in Bangladesh and Nepal was associated with decreasing trends in maternal anemia (anemia prevalence decreased by a magnitude of 12%, P = 0.075 in Bangladesh, and 26%, P = 0.009 in Nepal) (160). However, this was not consistent with findings from Cambodia (160).


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.

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.


Nutrition-sensitive approaches are difficult to link to women's nutritional status (5, 102). This is due to limited measurement of benefits to program beneficiaries, families, households, and communities, limited timeframes to evaluate long-term impact, logistical and political realities that make implementation difficult, and different priorities of different stakeholders in multisectoral programs (102). Many nutrition-sensitive approaches, as will be described, thus focus on more distal measures of impact (e.g., coverage, knowledge) and not more proximal measures of women's nutritional status (e.g., BMI, anemia status, etc.).
Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
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