The implications of direct nutrition interventions on women's nutrition, birth outcome and stunting rates in children in South Asia are indisputable and well documented. In the last decade, a number of studies present evidence of the role of non-nutritional factors impacting on women's nutrition, birth outcome, caring practices and nutritional status of children. The implications of various dimensions of women's empowerment and gender inequality on child stunting is being increasingly recognised. Evidence reveals the crucial role of early age of marriage and conception, poor secondary education, domestic violence, inadequate decision-making power, poor control over resources, strenuous agriculture activities, and increasing employment of women and of interventions such as cash transfer scheme and microfinance programme on undernutrition in children. Analysis of the nutrition situation of women and children in South Asia and programme findings emphasise the significance of reaching women during adolescence, pre-conception and pregnancy stage. Ensuring women enter pregnancy with adequate height and weight and free from being anemic is crucial. Combining nutrition-specific interventions with measures for empowerment of women is essential. Improvement in dietary intake and health services of women, prevention of early age marriage and conception, completion of secondary education, enhancement in purchasing power of women, reduction of work drudgery and elimination of domestic violence deserve special attention. A range of programme platforms dealing with health, education and empowerment of women could be strategically used for effectively reaching women prior to and during pregnancy to accelerate reduction in stunting rates in children in South Asia.
Fourth and finally, there was a general lack of focus on the relevant delivery platforms for nutrition interventions. Many studies were not explicit about how and where interventions were delivered, and we had to cross-reference multiple sources to identify the delivery platform for many interventions. Delivery platforms are important and relevant information in terms of replicability, but also for identifying who is effectively reached and missed. Information about delivery platforms is also instrumental in understanding gaps in implementation. A greater emphasis on delivery platforms could enhance the reach of nutrition interventions and could also strengthen the capacity to mobilize resources more effectively. For instance, organizing and grouping interventions by delivery platform (e.g., antenatal care, community centers, schools, clinics) or by the relevant stakeholders required for delivery (e.g., ministries, health care providers, teachers, administrators, transporters, etc.) could have the potential to more efficiently deliver nutrition interventions.
Evaluations of protein-energy supplementation were limited to specific situations and contexts, and few studies evaluated national-scale programs (14, 33). National-level protein-energy supplementation programs for women and adolescent girls are expensive and challenging to implement compared with other efficacious interventions (33). Procuring, preparing, and distributing food and appropriately targeting women most in need (e.g., women below the poverty line, women who have or are at high risk of malnutrition, etc.) present challenges to protein-energy supplementation interventions (33).
Part of the reason why so many women fail to get the amount of iron they need is because one of the best sources of iron is red meat (especially liver) which also contains high levels of saturated fat. While leafy green vegetables and beans are also good sources of iron—and don’t contain high levels saturated fat—the iron from plant foods is different to the iron from animal sources, and not absorbed as well by the body. Other foods rich in iron include poultry, seafood, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, and iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pastas.
There were also supplementation programs that targeted nonpregnant women. National supplementation programs that provided food baskets to low-income families increased maternal BMI and improved household food insecurity (92, 93). However, there were some unintended consequences. In Mexico, food transfer programs disproportionately increased weight gain in overweight women compared with underweight women (93), and 1 study in Bangladesh found that food transfers had larger impacts on men's intake than women's intake, except with less preferred foods (94). Adolescents who received protein-energy supplementation at school showed an increase in weight gain during supplementation, as well as improvements in school attendance and mathematics scores (46, 95). However, the impact of supplementation on micronutrient deficiencies and, specifically, hemoglobin concentration, was limited (46).
Many WASH interventions targeted mothers and their caregiving behaviors for children. However, these interventions were applied to entire households and not individual household members. Larger community-based hygiene and sanitation initiatives broadly reached more people in the community (131). However, certain populations such as the elderly and young children might have limited access to public infrastructure, such as public latrines, particularly if there are physical and economic barriers to accessing them (136).
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