The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared last week National Women’s Health Week (May 14-20th), but in reality we should be taking care of ourselves and have this awareness all year round, right? To kick this month off inspired by women’s health, let’s talk about health, nutrition, and of course answer your questions from Instagram, Twitter, and email from over this year!
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.
Second, the scope of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches was largely focused on undernutrition. There were major research and programming gaps in studies targeting overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease. In our review, the interventions addressing overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease were limited to nutrition education and integrated healthcare. However, overweight and obesity were identified as potential concerns for interventions targeting undernutrition, including food supplementation, and in-kind and cash transfers. This might be a result of the types of interventions that were evaluated, but also speaks to the need to broaden the scope of nutrition interventions that are commonly assessed (5, 13, 14) to explicitly address overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease as nutrition outcomes, and not just as unintended consequences. Globally, there is limited evidence of large-scale interventions that effectively prevent, treat, or correctly classify adiposity-related noncommunicable diseases, and this is a growing area of concern around the world (208). Future evaluations of nutrition interventions might also include interventions that influence women's time and physical environment, and that encourage physical activity or change in access to and affordability of certain foods, as these might also influence overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease outcomes for women.
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.
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.
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.
When you’re at the bar or a party and starving, your options aren’t always the best. But if it’s bruschetta, chips and salsa, or wings, go for the chicken (though nuts would be even better). Protein fills you up faster than carbs do, making it less likely that you’ll overeat, says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., a research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center. And since it’ll keep you satiated longer, you won’t be as tempted when your friend orders a brownie sundae or brings out a tray of blondies.
A 55-year-old woman who gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity should eat five ounces of grains; two cups of vegetables; one and a half cups of fruit; three cups of milk; five ounces of meat and beans; five teaspoons of oils, and no more than 130 calories of additional fat and sugar. If she got 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise, she could increase her intake to six ounces of grains; two and a half cups of vegetables; and up to 265 additional calories of fat and sugar.
We only included studies that reported on women's health and nutrition outcomes, and excluded studies that were targeted to women but that reported only on health and nutrition outcomes of children (including birth outcomes). We included outcomes for adolescent girls ages 10–19 y, pregnant and lactating women, nonpregnant and nonlactating women of reproductive age (>19 y), and older women. Studies that described interventions targeting a wider age range of adolescent girls (e.g., ages 8–24 y) were also included but adolescent girls aged >19 y were reported in this review as nonpregnant and nonlactating women of reproductive age. Although many adolescents in low- and middle-income countries are married and bearing children, adolescents (10–19 y) as reported in this review reflect girls who are nonpregnant and nonlactating. The few interventions in low- and middle-income countries that target pregnant and lactating adolescents are reported under pregnant and lactating women. A description of the articles included in this review can be found in Supplemental Table 1.
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing age consume 400 mcg of folic acid (a B vitamin) daily to reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected with spina bifida or other neural-tube defects. Women who are actively trying to get pregnant should consume 600 mcg, and lactating women should consumer 500 mcg. Women of childbearing age should also take care to meet the daily requirements for calcium, fiber, iron, protein and vitamin D. Discuss supplements with a health care professional, however. Iron and vitamin D in particular can be dangerous in high amounts.
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.
Even a quick glance at the Men’s Health Twitter feed reveals a more mercenary tone, involving “revenge shredding,” and what to do if your mom finds your incest porn. Still, there are some bright spots, like “7 Creepy Things You Should Never Do When You Meet a Woman,” like “Just stop catcalling. It never, ever works.” (Notably, this particular article was penned by a female writer.)
There remain significant barriers to accessing contraception for many women in both developing and developed regions. These include legislative, administrative, cultural, religious and economic barriers in addition to those dealing with access to and quality of health services. Much of the attention has been focussd on preventing adolescent pregnancy. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has identified a number of key barriers, on both the supply and demand side, including internalising socio-cultural values, pressure from family members, and cognitive barriers (lack of knowledge), which need addressing. Even in developed regions many women, particularly those who are disadvantaged, may face substantial difficulties in access that may be financial and geographic but may also face religious and political discrimination. Women have also mounted campaigns against potentially dangerous forms of contraception such as defective intrauterine devices (IUD)s, particularly the Dalkon Shield.
I subscribed to this magazine thinking it would be about health, fitness, and above all, working out. The headlines on the cover seemed to suggest that was true, with the biggest fonts advertising things like "flat abs now" and "maximize your workout". In reality, the content of the magazine is mostly beauty (how that counts as "health" is beyond me) and weight-loss. Oh, the endless, endless articles about "burn more fat!" "three new foods that will help you burn fat!" "drop pounds with this easy exercise!" I don't need to lose weight and I found that these articles just played into my growing impression, as issue after issue dropped on my doormat, that the magazine views women as vapid, stereotypical beings whose only desire is to look good, whether through exercise (almost inevitably restricted to cardio and yoga), the "right" work-out clothes (really?) or knowing what dress is in fashion or what color make-up to buy. If you enjoy that sort of thing, that's fine- it is essentially one step above Cosmopolitan on the seriousness scale. If you're looking for actual information about working out and building muscle, know that Women's Health magazine is barely aware that these things exist, and when it does, it will come wrapped in the form of "ten minutes a day to tone your bum like a super-model!" or something equally cringe-inducing.
Vickers, M. R; MacLennan, A. H; Lawton, B.; Ford, D.; Martin, J.; Meredith, S. K; DeStavola, B. L; Rose, S.; Dowell, A.; Wilkes, H. C; Darbyshire, J. H; Meade, T. W (4 August 2007). "Main morbidities recorded in the women's international study of long duration oestrogen after menopause (WISDOM): a randomised controlled trial of hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women". BMJ. 335 (7613): 239. doi:10.1136/bmj.39266.425069.AD. PMC 1939792. PMID 17626056.
Frankly, looking around, it seems your choice is either a magazine that barely addresses fitness, or going straight to the hardcore muscle-building mags. I was hoping for something reasonably in-between with Women's Health, but failed to find it. If someone knows of such a magazine, I'd be interested to hear it (I tried Women's Fitness, which suffers from the same problems as Women's Health). The good news is that my subscription to Women's Health seemed to get me a good price on Men's Health, which I am switching over to because some reviewers recommended it for those disappointed with the content of WH. I'll see how that works out.
Equally challenging for women are the physiological and emotional changes associated with the cessation of menses (menopause or climacteric). While typically occurring gradually towards the end of the fifth decade in life marked by irregular bleeding the cessation of ovulation and menstruation is accompanied by marked changes in hormonal activity, both by the ovary itself (oestrogen and progesterone) and the pituitary gland (follicle stimulating hormone or FSH and luteinizing hormone or LH). These hormonal changes may be associated with both systemic sensations such as hot flashes and local changes to the reproductive tract such as reduced vaginal secretions and lubrication. While menopause may bring relief from symptoms of menstruation and fear of pregnancy it may also be accompanied by emotional and psychological changes associated with the symbolism of the loss of fertility and a reminder of aging and possible loss of desirability. While menopause generally occurs naturally as a physiological process it may occur earlier (premature menopause) as a result of disease or from medical or surgical intervention. When menopause occurs prematurely the adverse consequences may be more severe.
Not surprisingly, many integrated health services were delivered in health clinics and facilities. Many women faced barriers to health facility–based care for nutrition, such as distance, time, quality of care, stocking of supplies, and the capacity and nutrition knowledge of healthcare professionals (105, 119). These barriers need to be taken into consideration to enhance the coverage of integrated health care services. Universal health care mitigated cost barriers to seeking health care, but did not address all of the barriers noted here (105, 109, 114, 120–123).
While the rates of the leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and lung disease, are similar in women and men, women have different experiences. Lung cancer has overtaken all other types of cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women, followed by breast cancer, colorectal, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers. While smoking is the major cause of lung cancer, amongst nonsmoking women the risk of developing cancer is three times greater than amongst nonsmoking men. Despite this, breast cancer remains the commonest cancer in women in developed countries, and is one of the more important chronic diseases of women, while cervical cancer remains one of the commonest cancers in developing countries, associated with human papilloma virus (HPV), an important sexually transmitted disease. HPV vaccine together with screening offers the promise of controlling these diseases. Other important health issues for women include cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, osteoporosis and anemia. A major impediment to advancing women's health has been their underrepresentation in research studies, an inequity being addressed in the United States and other western nations by the establishment of centers of excellence in women's health research and large scale clinical trials such as the Women's Health Initiative.
Changes in the way research ethics was visualised in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials (1946), led to an atmosphere of protectionism of groups deemed to be vulnerable that was often legislated or regulated. This resulted in the relative underrepresentation of women in clinical trials. The position of women in research was further compromised in 1977, when in response to the tragedies resulting from thalidomide and diethylstilbestrol (DES), the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibited women of child-bearing years from participation in early stage clinical trials. In practice this ban was often applied very widely to exclude all women. Women, at least those in the child-bearing years, were also deemed unsuitable research subjects due to their fluctuating hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle. However, research has demonstrated significant biological differences between the sexes in rates of susceptibility, symptoms and response to treatment in many major areas of health, including heart disease and some cancers. These exclusions pose a threat to the application of evidence-based medicine to women, and compromise to care offered to both women and men.