A number of implementation challenges exist for micronutrient supplementation. Access to care is often associated with socioeconomic status and may influence women's access to and use of supplementation programs. For instance, in one study, the highest wealth quintile of pregnant women had the highest use of iron and folic acid supplementation during antenatal care (33). However, even for women who have access to micronutrient supplements, the coverage and quality of micronutrient supplementation programs were limited (39). Incorrect doses, inadequate supplies, and incomplete adherence were major limitations (33), and poorly performing programs had limited impact on nutrition outcomes (59). Integration of supplementation programs with behavior change interventions improved knowledge, adherence, and coverage of supplementation interventions (32, 33, 60). The use of local micronutrient-rich foods can also help overcome limitations associated with supplement provision. In Nepal, improvements in the dark adaptation of night-blind pregnant women did not differ significantly between food and synthetic sources of vitamin A (61). When available, consumption of micronutrient-rich foods can be as effective as micronutrient supplements.
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.
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.

What is a healthy weight? The answer is different for everyone. But it’s important to know what a healthy weight is for you. Check out our top questions and answers on weight, weight gain, and weight loss. And talk to your doctor or nurse about your weight goals. Women often gain and lose weight differently, so the steps you need to take to lose weight may be different from the steps someone else needs to take.

Folic acid: This form of B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects can be devastating and fatal. Many foods are now fortified with folic acid. Most women get enough as part of their diet through foods such as leafy greens, a rich source of folic acid. However, some doctors recommend that women take a pregnancy supplement that includes folic acid, just to make sure they are getting the recommended 400 to 800 micrograms.


Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the neurological and early visual development of your baby and for making breast milk after birth. Aim for two weekly servings of cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, or anchovies. Sardines are widely considered the safest and most sustainable fish to eat, while seaweed is a rich vegetarian source of Omega-3s.
Research findings can take some time before becoming routinely implemented into clinical practice. Clinical medicine needs to incorporate the information already available from research studies as to the different ways in which diseases affect women and men. Many "normal" laboratory values have not been properly established for the female population separately, and similarly the "normal" criteria for growth and development. Drug dosing needs to take gender differences in drug metabolism into account.[6]
Although there is evidence that interventions can address widespread malnutrition among women, there is a lack of operational research and programs to tackle the issue. There is an imperative for the nutrition community to look beyond maternal nutrition and to address women's nutrition across their lives (3). How we reach women matters, and different delivery platforms are more appropriate for some women than others. Delivery platforms for reaching young mothers are different from those for adolescents and postmenopausal women. There is a need to intentionally consider strategies that appropriately target and deliver interventions to all women. This means that nutrition researchers and practitioners need to further adapt existing strategies and modes of delivery to adequately engage women who might not be in clinic settings (78). This also requires that researchers and practitioners explore how to deliver nutrition interventions to women and at different stages of life in order to reduce inequities in the delivery of nutrition services and to reach women missed by programs focusing on maternal nutrition alone.
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.
During adolescence and early adulthood, women need to consume foods rich in calcium to build peak (maximum) bone mass. This will reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, a progressive condition where there is a loss of bone that leaves those affected more susceptible to fractures. Women also need an adequate iron intake because they lose iron through menstruation. Women also need an adequate intake of calories to support energy and nutritional needs in order for the body to function properly. The amount of calories that an individual needs varies for each person and is based on age, gender and activity level. As a general recommendation, women between 23 and 50 years of age generally need between 1,700 and 2,200 calories per day to maintain their current energy needs and body weight. Older women generally require fewer calories to support and sustain energy needs. Consuming fewer than 1,500 calories per day, even in attempts to lose weight, can put women at nutritional risk and can result in malnutrition and poor health. For more information on how to calculate one’s nutritional needs, go to www.choosemyplate.gov and insert your personal information. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is another reference or guide to assist you in learning to eat a balanced and nutritious diet for good health.
A related issue is the inclusion of pregnant women in clinical studies. Since other illnesses can exist concurrently with pregnancy, information is needed on the response to and efficacy of interventions during pregnancy, but ethical issues relative to the fetus, make this more complex. This gender bias is partly offset by the iniation of large scale epidemiology studies of women, such as the Nurses' Health Study (1976),[162] Women's Health Initiative[163] and Black Women's Health Study.[164][6]
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.
You should eat a healthful, well-balanced diet during pregnancy. However, you should avoid certain foods, including raw or undercooked fish, poultry and meat; raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs; unpasteurized juices; raw sprouts; unpasteurized milk products; and some soft cheeses (cream cheese is OK). Avoid deli meats and frankfurters unless they have been reheated to steaming hot before eating. To prevent food-borne illnesses, take the following precautions:

Of the few studies evaluating nutrition education interventions for women and adolescent girls who were overweight and obese, many were “facility-based” and involved delivery platforms such as health clinics (13, 22), worksites (30), and schools (26, 27, 29). Delivery platforms targeting women and adolescents who were undernourished similarly involved facility-based settings (13), but also included community outreach (16, 28), home visits, community kitchens (15, 28), and text messaging platforms (32). Such community-based platforms could provide additional opportunities for the delivery of nutrition education interventions addressing overweight, obesity, and associated noncommunicable disease in the future.
Behavioral differences also play a role, in which women display lower risk taking including consume less tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, reducing their risk of mortality from associated diseases, including lung cancer, tuberculosis and cirrhosis. Other risk factors that are lower for women include motor vehicle accidents. Occupational differences have exposed women to less industrial injuries, although this is likely to change, as is risk of injury or death in war. Overall such injuries contributed to 3.5% of deaths in women compared to 6.2% in the United States in 2009. Suicide rates are also less in women.[27][28]

Violence was declared a global health priority by the WHO at its assembly in 1996, drawing on both the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of violence against women (1993)[134] and the recommendations of both the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995)[140] This was followed by its 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, which focusses on intimate partner and sexual violence.[141] Meanwhile, the UN embedded these in an action plan when its General Assembly passed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000, which resolved inter alia "to combat all forms of violence against women and to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women".[142] One of the Millennium Goals (MDG 3) was the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,[143] which sought to eliminate all forms of violence against women as well as implementing CEDAW.[101] This recognised that eliminating violence, including discrimination was a prerequisite to achieving all other goals of improving women's health. However it was later criticised for not including violence as an explicit target, the "missing target".[144][85] In the evaluation of MDG 3, violence remained a major barrier to achieving the goals.[31][37] In the successor Sustainable Development Goals, which also explicitly list the related issues of discrimination, child marriage and genital cutting, one target is listed as "Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres" by 2030.[109][145][138]

There are a number of cultural factors that reinforce this practice. These include the child's financial future, her dowry, social ties and social status, prevention of premarital sex, extramarital pregnancy and STIs. The arguments against it include interruption of education and loss of employment prospects, and hence economic status, as well as loss of normal childhood and its emotional maturation and social isolation. Child marriage places the girl in a relationship where she is in a major imbalance of power and perpetuates the gender inequality that contributed to the practice in the first place.[93][94] Also in the case of minors, there are the issues of human rights, non-consensual sexual activity and forced marriage and a 2016 joint report of the WHO and Inter-Parliamentary Union places the two concepts together as Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM), as did the 2014 Girl Summit (see below).[95] In addition the likely pregnancies at a young age are associated with higher medical risks for both mother and child, multiple pregnancies and less access to care[96][11][93] with pregnancy being amongst the leading causes of death amongst girls aged 15–19. Girls married under age are also more likely to be the victims of domestic violence.[92]


Community health posts and home visits provided a platform to make health care services more accessible (109, 110, 124). Community-based platforms for the delivery of health services included community center and home visits from community health workers, mobile clinics, community support groups, mobile phones, and mass media campaigns (105, 110). Community-based services were effective in reducing maternal mortality and managing HIV (106). However, 1 review found that community-based interventions were only effective in reducing maternal morbidity and not mortality (107, 110). In high-income settings, community-based services were associated with hypertension and diabetes management, and cervical and breast cancer screening (106). We found no references for the use of community-based integrated care to address women's nutrition in low- and middle-income settings. It could be an effective way to reach older women and women of reproductive age who do not regularly engage with health centers. For children, community-based services were effective in improving health outcomes, particularly among the poorest wealth quintiles (13, 110). More research is needed on the potential of community-based services to reduce inequities in delivery of care to women in different settings and across different socioeconomic statuses.


  Home visits  ↓ anemia, ↑ Hgb, ↑ food consumption, ↑ weight gain (underweight adolescents), NC mortality, ↓ fatigue  ↓ anemia, ↑ serum folate, ↑ serum B-12, NC mortality, NC depression  ↓ anemia, ↑ MN status (Hgb, ferritin, folate, B-12, zinc, riboflavin), ↑/NC serum retinol, ↓/NC night blindness, ↑ weight gain, NC maternal mortality, NC depression   
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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