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.
A well-balanced diet, comprised of a variety of foods, adequately meets women’s needs for vitamins, minerals and energy. For good health, women need to pay special attention to calcium, iron and folate (folic acid) intake. A healthy diet also should minimize the intake of fat and sugar. Diets high in saturated or trans fat can promote high levels of blood cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease. A diet that includes high sugar provides empty calories, or calories that do not provide any nutritional value and often times replace more nutritious food selections.
Recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that ART babies are two to four times more likely to have certain kinds of birth defects. These may include heart and digestive system problems, and cleft (divided into two pieces) lips or palate. Researchers don't know why this happens. The birth defects may not be due to the technology. Other factors, like the age of the parents, may be involved. More research is needed. The risk is relatively low, but parents should consider this when making the decision to use ART.
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).
Micronutrient supplementation programs for vitamin A, iron and folic acid, calcium, zinc, and multiple micronutrients effectively impacted the micronutrient status of pregnant and lactating women, as well as women of reproductive age and adolescent girls (13, 14, 33, 35–48). Interventions making use of multiple micronutrients were more effective at changing plasma micronutrient concentrations than interventions focused solely on 1 nutrient alone (38, 42). In countries with comprehensive programs for iron supplementation during pregnancy, anemia prevalence dropped (1, 49). Positive health impacts of supplementation were most notable among pregnant women who were deficient and at risk of low intake (43, 50). However, there were some studies that showed inconsistent or limited evidence for the effectiveness of supplementation on other maternal health outcomes (31, 51–58).
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.
Katz DL, O'Connell M, Yeh MC, Nawaz H, Njike V, Anderson LM, Cory S, Dietz W; Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Public health strategies for preventing and controlling overweight and obesity in school and worksite settings: a report on recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR Recomm Rep 2005;54(RR-10):1–12.
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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).
The major differences in life expectancy for women between developed and developing countries lie in the childbearing years. If a woman survives this period, the differences between the two regions become less marked, since in later life non-communicable diseases (NCDs) become the major causes of death in women throughout the world, with cardiovascular deaths accounting for 45% of deaths in older women, followed by cancer (15%) and lung disease (10%). These create additional burdens on the resources of developing countries. Changing lifestyles, including diet, physical activity and cultural factors that favour larger body size in women, are contributing to an increasing problem with obesity and diabetes amongst women in these countries and increasing the risks of cardiovascular disease and other NCDs.
Systematically report and evaluate women's nutrition outcomes in research and program evaluation documents in low- and middle-income countries, including outcomes for adolescents, older women, and mothers (as opposed to reporting on women's nutrition as child nutrition outcomes alone). When possible, report and evaluate differences by setting (e.g., rural compared with urban) and socioeconomic status.