In the stereotypical Ozzie and Harriet family of the 1950s, men ruled the roost while women ruled the roast. That's no longer true (if it ever was), but in most households women are still in charge of nutrition. They stock the pantry, plan the menus, and fill the plates. In most households it's a good thing, since the average woman knows more about nutrition than the average man. But when it comes to optimal nutrition, there are differences between the sexes. The differences are subtle, but they may affect a man's health.
Anaemia is a major global health problem for women. Women are affected more than men, in which up to 30% of women being found to be anaemic and 42% of pregnant women. Anaemia is linked to a number of adverse health outcomes including a poor pregnancy outcome and impaired cognitive function (decreased concentration and attention). The main cause of anaemia is iron deficiency. In United States women iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) affects 37% of pregnant women, but globally the prevalence is as high as 80%. IDA starts in adolescence, from excess menstrual blood loss, compounded by the increased demand for iron in growth and suboptimal dietary intake. In the adult woman, pregnancy leads to further iron depletion.
There are a number of cultural factors that reinforce this practice. These include the child's financial future, her dowry, social ties and social status, prevention of premarital sex, extramarital pregnancy and STIs. The arguments against it include interruption of education and loss of employment prospects, and hence economic status, as well as loss of normal childhood and its emotional maturation and social isolation. Child marriage places the girl in a relationship where she is in a major imbalance of power and perpetuates the gender inequality that contributed to the practice in the first place. Also in the case of minors, there are the issues of human rights, non-consensual sexual activity and forced marriage and a 2016 joint report of the WHO and Inter-Parliamentary Union places the two concepts together as Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM), as did the 2014 Girl Summit (see below). In addition the likely pregnancies at a young age are associated with higher medical risks for both mother and child, multiple pregnancies and less access to care with pregnancy being amongst the leading causes of death amongst girls aged 15–19. Girls married under age are also more likely to be the victims of domestic violence.
Fortunately, this trend is not across the board; on the cover of the January issue of Shape, Mandy Moore is in a black leather jacket so that her ensemble kind of resembles Wahlberg’s. This is not to say that Shape always covers up its cover women: Kate Walsh (right) was famously naked on her Shape cover (“How She Stays This Hot At 44!”), while The Biggest Loser’s Alison Sweeney also favored a red bikini.
Our findings identified gaps and limitations in the evaluation, scope, targeting, and delivery platforms of nutrition interventions in low- and middle-income countries. First, the monitoring and evaluation of nutrition programs that reported on women's nutrition outcomes was generally inadequate. Many of the studies we identified included small-scale efficacy trials. Although there were many large-scale programs that targeted women and adolescent girls with nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches, they lacked rigorous evaluation. Whether the evidence about women's outcomes was limited because they are not systematically measured or because they are not well reported is not clear. Negative results are often not published, and many evaluations of nutrition interventions that are conducted by the same groups responsible for implementing them are typically presented positively. This may have also skewed our findings. More intentional research-quality program evaluation, including of large-scale programs, would provide a stronger evidence base. Of the studies identified in this review, many reported on short-term findings such as changes in knowledge, dietary behaviors, and program coverage. They were limited in their ability to report clinical and anthropometric outcomes for women, the duration of those outcomes, and the feasibility of scaling up programs. There is also a need for systematic, long-term evaluations of interventions whose effects on nutrition outcomes are more distal (e.g., nutrition education compared with micronutrient supplementation). The effects of multisectoral interventions are even more complex to measure. However, frameworks exist to evaluate complex interventions (102) and could be utilized to evaluate the impact of interventions across the life course.
“The reason most people don't see changes isn't because they don't work hard—it's because they don't make their workouts harder,” says Adam Bornstein, founder of Born Fitness. His suggestion: Create a challenge every time you exercise. “Use a little more weight, rest five to 10 seconds less between sets, add a few more reps, or do another set. Incorporating these small variations into your routine is a recipe for change,” he says.
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.
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.