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.
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).
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.
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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.