The extent to which interventions target women more generally, as opposed to just mothers, is not well documented. It requires reflecting on “Who is the woman in women's nutrition?” to identify which women are actually targeted in nutrition interventions, which are not, how they are reached, and gaps in policies and interventions to reach women who are missed. To address this, in this comprehensive narrative review, we 1) summarize existing knowledge about interventions targeting women's health and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries, 2) identify gaps in current delivery platforms that are intended to reach women and address their health and nutrition, and 3) determine strategies to reshape policies and programs to reach all women, at all stages of their lives, with a particular focus on women in low- and middle-income countries.
Most experts recommend 1,300 mg of calcium a day for girls aged 9 through 19. Natural sources of calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, are the smartest choice, because they also contain vitamin D and protein, both required for calcium absorption. Milk, yogurt, and cheese contribute most of the calcium in our diets. Some vegetables are also good sources, including broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage. Many foods are supplemented with calcium, including some brands of orange juice and tofu. The daily intake for Vitamin D is 600 IU per day for most children and healthy adults.
SOURCES: Elaine Turner, PhD, RD, associate professor, department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida, Gainesville. Sharon B. Spalding, MEd, CSCS, professor, physical education and health; and associate director, Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, Mary Baldwin College Staunton, Va. American Dietetic Association web site. Institute of Medicine at the National Academies web site.
There are many well-documented challenges in disentangling empowerment interventions from other interventions with which they are delivered. Empowerment interventions are often integrated into income-generating activities and agricultural extension, and many empowerment approaches are retroactively classified as “nutrition-sensitive” despite a lack of nutrition components in the original intervention designs (5). In addition, many studies are limited in scope and their evaluation of nutrition outcomes (159), and it is difficult to evaluate which dimensions of women's empowerment matter most for nutrition (162). Notably, indicators to quantify women's empowerment are also not used consistently and vary widely between individual studies (158).
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.
Folate or vitamin B9 (also known as folic acid when used in fortified foods or taken as a supplement) is another nutrient that many women don’t get enough of in their diets. Folate can greatly reduce the chance of neurological birth defects when taken before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folate can also lower a woman’s risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer, so even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant (and many pregnancies are unplanned), it’s an essential nutrient for every woman of childbearing age. In later life, folate can help your body manufacture estrogen during menopause.
Educational interventions most often targeted school-age children and adolescent girls, and there were few examples of programs targeting women of reproductive age (174). The majority of education interventions were delivered in formal school-based settings (174). However, this is a “selective” delivery platform given that not all adolescents attend schools (193). School fees and distance to school are major barriers to school enrollment (174, 194). Educational interventions need to be sensitive to the reasons why girls are not in school, e.g., work, and to the hours and locations that might make education interventions more accessible (193). Nonformal education, alternative education, mobile schools, and literacy programs can target women and girls not in school, although these approaches were less common and not as well evaluated (174). Interventions that target girls who are no longer in school provide valuable examples about how such interventions could be delivered to hard-to-reach groups (182).
Calcium: For adult women aged 19-50, the USDA recommended daily allowance is 1,000 mg/day. For women over 50, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 mg/day. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, certain fish, grains, tofu, cabbage, and summer squash. Your body cannot take in more than 500 mg at any one time and there’s no benefit to exceeding the recommended daily amount.
Low-fat diets also can help you lose weight.16 But the amount of weight lost is usually small. You can lose weight and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke if you follow an overall healthy pattern of eating that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans that are high in fiber, nuts, low-fat dairy and fish, in addition to staying away from trans fat and saturated fat.
Both your nutritional needs (the food and water) and your metabolism (how fast your body converts food to energy) change at this age. Your metabolism gets slower. Women lose about half a pound of muscle per year starting around the age of 40. That makes losing weight even more difficult. Some of the changes women experience are due to decreased hormones, reduced activity level, and medical conditions.
Adult women, and particularly women with children, were the primary targets for empowerment interventions. Empowerment interventions were predominantly delivered through community-based programs, including home visits, community groups, and community centers (5, 161, 163). There was some evidence that empowerment interventions that included delivery platforms such as radio and television, as a complement to the community- and home-based delivery platforms (5), could have some impact on reaching a wider audience. Adolescent girls were largely not the target of empowerment interventions, except for those relating to reproductive health (158), and could potentially benefit from them.
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
Integrated health care, which integrates curative and preventive interventions, can improve nutrition outcomes for women across the life course through improved access to counseling, vaccinations, and screening and treatment of illnesses (103–107). Access to primary health care positively contributed to the prevention, diagnosis, and management of both communicable and noncommunicable disease (108). Distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, condoms, screening and testing for disease, and delivery of medical treatments were often associated with integrated health initiatives and improved health and nutrition outcomes (13, 109). Access to health care was associated with the delivery of nutrition-specific interventions to manage pregnancy-induced hypertension, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and hemorrhage (106, 107, 110). However, some studies showed that integrated services increased knowledge, but did not result in changes in health or nutrition outcomes (103). In addition, in many settings, quality of care was inadequate (107) and incorrect diagnoses and treatments were common (111).
Many nutrition-sensitive approaches were delivered in broader community-based settings and more equitably reached women across the life course. Non-facilities-based settings more equitably delivered nutrition interventions to women who were not pregnant or lactating, and who were less engaged with health clinics and schools. For instance, food fortification, which was often delivered through markets, home visits, and community centers, seemed to be more effective at reaching women of reproductive age than health center–based delivery platforms. Community-level interventions are often reported as more equitable than platforms that require access to “fixed and well-equipped health facilities” (212). This aligns with our findings, where we found that community-based platforms such as home visits, community centers, homes of community leaders, work, mass media, mobile phones, and commercial settings were effective at reaching women across the life course (Table 1). Other delivery platforms such as marketplaces, water points, tailoring shops, and agricultural points for seeds or inputs were also effective. These locations need to be context-specific in order to capture where women spend their time. For instance, in countries where many adolescent girls do not attend school, school-based delivery platforms might be less effective. Delivery platforms also need to be sensitive to the sociodemographic differences that influence where women spend their time, such as differences for women in rural and urban areas, and of different socioeconomic statuses. Additional research needs to identify and report where women and adolescent girls are, and how best to reach them.
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).