The delivery of nutrition education reached women across all life stages and through many platforms. Many nutrition education studies that targeted pregnant and lactating mothers reported on women's outcomes, but the primary focus of many of these studies was child health outcomes (13, 14, 19, 21, 24, 28); few studies focused on dietary outcomes and behaviors of pregnant and lactating women themselves (17, 20, 23). There were some studies evaluating the impact of nutrition education on the practices and outcomes of school-age children and adolescent girls (15, 18, 27, 29, 34), as well as older women (16, 22, 25, 30). Many of the nutrition education interventions were clinic-based (17–20, 23, 24). However, nutrition education was also delivered through community-based programs, including home visits (16, 21), community centers (15, 16, 20, 21), worksites (25), and schools (25, 27, 30, 34).
Third, of the interventions that were evaluated, many interventions targeted women who were pregnant, lactating, or with young children <5 y of age. We do not refute the important focus on mothers and their children as a group deserving of special attention, given women's increased nutrient needs during pregnancy and lactation and the intergenerational consequences during this period. However, even the interventions that focused on maternal nutrition often only reported on birth and nutrition outcomes of the child, and not those of the mother. In addition, although there were interventions that targeted adolescent girls and women of reproductive age, they were fewer and less well evaluated than interventions that targeted women as mothers. This aligns with findings from other research which illustrated a higher proportion of programs targeting pregnant and lactating women and women with young children (209). We also found major gaps in the targeting of interventions for older women. With growing rates of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable diseases, in addition to undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, it is essential to think outside of the maternal-focused paradigm to reach women at all life stages.
Family planning and birth spacing can influence the nutrition of adolescent girls, women of reproductive age, and women with young children by reducing the number of adverse outcomes associated with pregnancy and abortion. For adolescent girls, in particular, pregnancy is associated with increased risk of birth complications, anemia, hindered linear growth, and loss of educational attainment (8, 107). Delaying early child marriages and providing access to family planning, particularly for young wives, allow girls to achieve their maximum growth potential (8, 142). However, for women with young children, there was scarce evidence from observational studies to suggest that greater birth spacing had any impact on anthropometric status (BMI, weight), micronutrient status (anemia, as well as serum zinc, copper, magnesium, and folate), and maternal mortality outcomes (13, 107, 143–147). Findings were mixed, which was attributed to sample size and other confounding factors such as maternal age, breastfeeding status, and supplementation status (146, 147). The strongest evidence of the impact of birth spacing on women's nutrition was related to increased risk of preterm delivery and maternal anemia in interpregnancy intervals <6 mo (14, 146, 147) and increased risk of pre-eclampsia in intervals >5 y (107).
Globally, women's access to health care remains a challenge, both in developing and developed countries. In the United States, before the Affordable Health Care Act came into effect, 25% of women of child-bearing age lacked health insurance. In the absence of adequate insurance, women are likely to avoid important steps to self care such as routine physical examination, screening and prevention testing, and prenatal care. The situation is aggravated by the fact that women living below the poverty line are at greater risk of unplanned pregnancy, unplanned delivery and elective abortion. Added to the financial burden in this group are poor educational achievement, lack of transportation, inflexible work schedules and difficulty obtaining child care, all of which function to create barriers to accessing health care. These problems are much worse in developing countries. Under 50% of childbirths in these countries are assisted by healthcare providers (e.g. midwives, nurses, doctors) which accounts for higher rates of maternal death, up to 1:1,000 live births. This is despite the WHO setting standards, such as a minimum of four antenatal visits. A lack of healthcare providers, facilities, and resources such as formularies all contribute to high levels of morbidity amongst women from avoidable conditions such as obstetrical fistulae, sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer.