Women's nutrition is often eclipsed by maternal nutrition. There are important linkages between maternal nutrition and the health, cognitive development, and earning potential of future generations (1). However, with reduced childbearing and longer life spans, women's experiences extend beyond motherhood (2). Interventions and policies that target women solely as mothers fail to account for women before they conceive, after they no longer engage with programs targeting maternal–child health, as well as those who never have children (3, 4). A woman's nutrition should matter not (only) because of her reproductive potential, but because it is fundamental to her rights as a person and to her well-being and ability to thrive (5–7). With increasing attention to the nutritional needs of adolescent girls (8, 9), in addition to the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease affecting women later in life (10), it is becoming more imperative that interventions reach women at all life stages.
Nutrition education, including communication and counseling to raise awareness and promote nutrition-related knowledge and behaviors aligned with public health goals, was found to increase women's knowledge and improve women's dietary diversity and protein intake (15–21). It also reduced energy intake of overweight women over a 9-mo period (22). However, evidence for the effectiveness of nutrition education interventions showed mixed impact on biological and anthropometric markers of women's nutritional status (14–16, 18, 23–29). This could be due to lack of statistical power given the small sample sizes of the reviewed studies. For adolescent girls, nutrition education was found to reduce odds of overweight, and improve knowledge, dietary intake, physical activity, and sedentary behavior (27, 29, 30). This was particularly true for nutrition education that lasted longer than 12 mo (29). Nutrition education was also more strongly associated with changes in health outcomes in studies evaluating childhood obesity treatment, rather than childhood obesity prevention (29).
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.
A healthy vegetarian diet falls within the 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) may want to consider vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. You can obtain what you need from non-animal sources. For instance:
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.
In addition to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors can also play an important role in bone health. Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, while weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, dancing, yoga, or lifting weights) can lower your risk. Strength or resistance training—using machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight—can be especially effective in helping to prevent loss of bone mass as you age.
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.
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).