Although growing bodies need plenty of energy in the form of calories, many children and teenagers consume way too many, says Ruth Frechman, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. The latest findings from federal surveys show that 18% of adolescents and teenagers are fatter than they should be. Kids who are obese are 16 times more likely than healthy weight children to become obese as adults, other findings show.
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.
In low- and middle-income countries, health care services often respond to acute health needs and many focus on maternal–child health (105, 106, 110, 112). The use of preventative care is limited, and there are concerns about the capacity of health systems to address noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, in low- and middle-income settings (108, 112). This has implications for the reach of integrated health care interventions across the life course. Maternal and reproductive health care is often sought by women when they are pregnant and in the early years of their children's lives (3, 113). Even so, many women visit health facilities late in their pregnancy or not at all (114–116). For adolescents and adult women, care is often not sought until they are sick (3, 117, 118). This is problematic for older women, in particular, as screening and treatment for age-related health issues, such as diabetes, cancer, and hypertension, require access to preventative health care services (3).
Nutrition is particularly important when you are pregnant. Weight gain during pregnancy is normal—and it's not just because of the growing fetus; your body is storing fat for lactation. The National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine (NAS/IOM) has determined that a gain of 25 to 35 pounds is desirable. However, underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain at least 15 pounds. 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. Remember that pregnancy isn't the time to diet. Caloric restriction during pregnancy has been associated with reduced birth weight, which can be dangerous to the baby.
Packing your two-piece away for winter means you won't think about how you'll look in it until about April. Avoid any potential “how did my butt get this big?!” panics come spring by keeping your swimsuit handy and putting it on every so often to make sure you like what you see, says Tanya Becker, co-founder of the Physique 57 barre program. You can also toss it on when you're tempted to overindulge, she adds. “There’s no better way to keep yourself from having that after-dinner cookie or slice of cake."
Women’s health magazines have always highlighted female celebrities at the peak of fitness: workout guru Jane Fonda next to a headline shouting “Perfect Your Body” on a 1987 Shape cover is a classic example. Peering at the local magazine counter this month, I noticed a lot of women’s health magazine still had life- and body-empowering messages, but they stressed the mental gains over the physical: “Your Best You!” next to Brooke Shields on the cover of Health; “Hot & Happy!” aside E!’s Maria Menounos. Shape magazine now even has an online section called #LoveMyShape, in which Orange Is The New Black star Danielle Brooks discusses how she learned to embrace her curves through her Lane Bryant ads, and model Katie Willcox wants you to know that you’re so much more than you see in the mirror.
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.
After 40, your hormone levels (estrogen) drop. This causes your insulin (hormone that helps your body use sugar) rise. Your thyroid levels go down. This combination makes you hungrier. You end up eating more and burning fewer calories. Much of the weight gain occurs around your belly. Eat more foods with fiber (berries, whole grains, nuts) to fill you up and help you eat less. Aim for 25 grams of fiber each day after the age of 40. Other ways to increase your metabolism include:
Even if you are the most independent exerciser around, give a group fitness class a shot at least once a week—you may find that you enjoy it more than sweating solo. “Happiness and health are shared through social connectedness and closeness,” says Greg Chertok, director of sport psychology at the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey. “Geography and proximity are predictors of how contagious emotions can be, and this may translate into an athletic environment too.” Sign up for Bikram, CrossFit, spin, or Zumba, and you could find yourself—gasp!—smiling at the gym thanks to your classmates.
Getting enough water also is important. Many experts recommend at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily—more if you exercise frequently or are exposed to extremes of heat and cold. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize drinking more water and other calorie-free beverages, along with fat-free or low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juices, instead of calorie-packed regular sodas.
Income-generation interventions largely target adult women (women of reproductive age, women with young children, and older women). Many microfinance and loan programs are targeted to women because of their likelihood to pay back the loans, although women with lower education levels and smaller businesses do not benefit to the same degree as women who are educated or who have bigger businesses (165). There was limited evidence of such interventions targeting adolescent girls (169). In order to understand the potential impact of income-generating activities on adolescents, more information is needed about the pathways by which adolescents contribute to their own food security, the degree to which they rely on their caregivers to meet their nutritional needs, and how those dynamics change with the age of adolescents (169). Training, workshops, and extension activities were often delivered through community centers, community groups, and financial institutions (165). Other affiliated interventions, such as agricultural extension and nutrition education, were provided at the community level and at home visits (160, 173). These delivery platforms were effective at reaching women, including low-income women, particularly when they engaged with existing community groups (e.g., self-help, farmers’, and women's groups) (160, 161, 167, 169, 172, 173).
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.
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.
Carbohydrates should provide 45%–65% of your daily calories. Most of those calories should come from the complex carbohydrates in high-fiber and unrefined foods, such as bran cereal and other whole-grain products, brown rice, beans and other legumes, and many fruits and vegetables. These carbohydrates are digested and absorbed slowly, so they raise the blood sugar gradually and don't trigger a large release of insulin. People who eat lots of these foods have higher HDL ("good") cholesterol levels and a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. A good amount of soluble fiber in the diet lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and high-fiber diets reduce the risk of intestinal disorders ranging from constipation and diverticulosis to hemorrhoids. Some studies have shown that fiber may help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Men need more fiber than women: 38 vs. 25 grams a day before the age of 50 and 30 vs. 21 grams a day thereafter.
In addition, more research is needed to evaluate the impact of targeting women alone compared with targeting women alongside other members of their families and communities (e.g., with groups of other women, men, husbands, children, parents, in-laws, other family members, other community members, etc.). Interventions that targeted women with their children during child health visits or alongside other members of their communities through community mobilization and mass media campaigns showed improvements in knowledge and some health and nutrition behaviors of women. The inclusion of boys and men, for instance, as well as the inclusion of other family and community members, could enhance the impact and delivery of nutrition interventions for women through support of certain practices, reminders, time-savings, and normalization of nutrition behaviors. However, more research is needed to identify effective targeting mechanisms (i.e., alone or alongside other members of households and communities) and we expect that these will likely need to be context- and content-specific.
The effect of education programs on nutrition outcomes is difficult to assess because programs often have poor baseline data or nutrition outcomes are not evaluated (174, 182). Studies that used longitudinal analyses and “natural” experiments (e.g., before and after a national education policy) found that education was associated with reduced fertility (183, 184), and delayed early marriages and pregnancies (184–187). The impact was more significant for higher levels of education (185). However, 1 study in Malawi identified negative associations between education and timing of first birth, although these findings were largely not statistically significant (188). Secondary education for adolescents and women of reproductive age also showed no impact on women's empowerment (184), although it did show an impact on improved literacy and leadership (174). Educational interventions that provided conditional cash transfers (CCTs) and school feeding, as well as other forms of social protection to families of enrolled girls, were associated with greater school enrollment and attendance (189–191), improved test scores (189, 190), reduced gender gaps (192), and reduced hunger (190, 191).
Health care experts haven't reached a consensus on the issue of vitamin and mineral supplements. Many say that if you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, you don't need any. But not all of us eat a well-balanced diet. And sometimes, you may follow a nutritious diet and still be deficient. Many women fail to get the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Stress increases your need for vitamins and minerals, especially C, B-complex and zinc.
Energy and protein supplementation was most often associated with weight gain of women, and often targeted pregnant women with suboptimal weight. For pregnant women, energy and protein supplementation modestly increased maternal weight (86–90). Other maternal outcomes were not frequently reported, and were often secondary objectives of protein-energy supplementation interventions (33, 88). Many studies reported on infant health outcomes, including reductions in low birth weight and preterm births (19, 89–91). Adequate energy and protein intake was also relevant for interventions targeting the prevention of excessive gestational weight gain of overweight and obese pregnant women. These interventions restricted dietary energy intake of overweight women during pregnancy and resulted in reduced excess weight gain during pregnancy but had no impact on pregnancy-related hypertension and pre-eclampsia (19, 88).
Social protection Health centers (“condition” and delivery platform) ↑ knowledge about health and nutrition, ↑ HH food consumption, ↑ food expenditures, ↑/NC food share, ↑ 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, ↑ self-confidence, ↑ participation in social networks, ↑ control HH resources, ↑ ANC coverage
Protein should provide about 15% of a healthy person's daily calories. As a rule of thumb, people of both sexes and any size will do fine with about 60 grams of protein a day. Athletes who have large muscles and work out hard may need 20% more. But even that's not very much; 8 ounces of chicken or 6 ounces of canned tuna, for example, will fit the bill.
If motivation is your hang-up, change your exercise routine every 14 days. A University of Florida study discovered that people who modified their workouts twice a month were more likely than to stick to their plans compared to those who changed their regimens whenever they wanted to. Boredom didn’t appear to be a factor; it seems people simply enjoyed the variety more.
Most Americans get far more protein than they really need. In theory, that may not be wise. Like carbohydrates, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and excess calories from any source will be stored as body fat. Excess dietary protein increases calcium loss in the urine, perhaps raising the risk for osteoporosis ("thin bones," more a worry for women) and kidney stones (a particular worry for men).
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
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.
Give your body a little more credit: It tells you when you’re hungry—you may not be listening, though. Before chowing down because there’s only one slice of pie left or because the last guest arrived at the brunch, stop and check in with your stomach. “If you’re not hungry, make yourself a small plate and sip on some tea or coffee while everyone else digs in,” recommends Elle Penner, M.P.H., R.D., a MyFitnessPal expert. When your belly starts to finally grumble, food will be there.
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.
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).