Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).
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!
Integrated health care, which integrates curative and preventive interventions, can improve nutrition outcomes for women across the life course through improved access to counseling, vaccinations, and screening and treatment of illnesses (103–107). Access to primary health care positively contributed to the prevention, diagnosis, and management of both communicable and noncommunicable disease (108). Distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, condoms, screening and testing for disease, and delivery of medical treatments were often associated with integrated health initiatives and improved health and nutrition outcomes (13, 109). Access to health care was associated with the delivery of nutrition-specific interventions to manage pregnancy-induced hypertension, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and hemorrhage (106, 107, 110). However, some studies showed that integrated services increased knowledge, but did not result in changes in health or nutrition outcomes (103). In addition, in many settings, quality of care was inadequate (107) and incorrect diagnoses and treatments were common (111).
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in the world and the most common among women. It is also among the ten most common chronic diseases of women, and a substantial contributor to loss of quality of life (Gronowski and Schindler, Table IV). Globally, it accounts for 25% of all cancers. In 2016, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in both developed and developing countries, accounting for nearly 30% of all cases, and worldwide accounts for one and a half million cases and over half a million deaths, being the fifth most common cause of cancer death overall and the second in developed regions. Geographic variation in incidence is the opposite of that of cervical cancer, being highest in Northern America and lowest in Eastern and Middle Africa, but mortality rates are relatively constant, resulting in a wide variance in case mortality, ranging from 25% in developed regions to 37% in developing regions, and with 62% of deaths occurring in developing countries.
These challenges are included in the goals of the Office of Research on Women's Health, in the United States, as is the goal of facilitating women's access to careers in biomedicine. The ORWH believes that one of the best ways to advance research in women's health is to increase the proportion of women involved in healthcare and health research, as well as assuming leadership in government, centres of higher learning, and in the private sector. This goal acknowledges the glass ceiling that women face in careers in science and in obtaining resources from grant funding to salaries and laboratory space. The National Science Foundation in the United States states that women only gain half of the doctorates awarded in science and engineering, fill only 21% of full-time professor positions in science and 5% of those in engineering, while earning only 82% of the remuneration their male colleagues make. These figures are even lower in Europe.
Women experience many unique health issues related to reproduction and sexuality and these are responsible for a third of all health problems experienced by women during their reproductive years (aged 15–44), of which unsafe sex is a major risk factor, especially in developing countries. Reproductive health includes a wide range of issues including the health and function of structures and systems involved in reproduction, pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing, including antenatal and perinatal care. Global women's health has a much larger focus on reproductive health than that of developed countries alone, but also infectious diseases such as malaria in pregnancy and non-communicable diseases (NCD). Many of the issues that face women and girls in resource poor regions are relatively unknown in developed countries, such as female genital cutting, and further lack access to the appropriate diagnostic and clinical resources.
However, many fortification programs in low- and middle-income countries are regional or voluntary and, thus, might have a limited nutritional impact at the national level (76). Although many efficacy trials show benefits of fortification interventions, scaling up fortification is limited by inadequate coverage and resources (13, 77, 78). Evidence for impact is also affected by suboptimal programming, low-bioavailability fortificants (e.g., reduced iron powder), poor consumption rates, weak enforcement mechanisms, and inadequate monitoring (76, 79, 80). More research is needed to evaluate the long-term impact of fortification and biofortification programs (75). In addition, there is also growing concern about fortifying and promoting food vehicles that have adverse health consequences when consumed in excess, such as salt and sugar, given the rising prevalence of overweight, obesity, and noncommunicable disease (81–83).
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Child marriage (including union or cohabitation) is defined as marriage under the age of eighteen and is an ancient custom. In 2010 it was estimated that 67 million women, then, in their twenties had been married before they turned eighteen, and that 150 million would be in the next decade, equivalent to 15 million per year. This number had increased to 70 million by 2012. In developing countries one third of girls are married under age, and 1:9 before 15. The practice is commonest in South Asia (48% of women), Africa (42%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (29%). The highest prevalence is in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa. The percentage of girls married before the age of eighteen is as high as 75% in countries such as Niger (Nour, Table I). Most child marriage involves girls. For instance in Mali the ratio of girls to boys is 72:1, while in countries such as the United States the ratio is 8:1. Marriage may occur as early as birth, with the girl being sent to her husbands home as early as age seven.
What's a man to do? Fortunately, he does not have to choose between his bones and his prostate. The solution is moderation. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, for example, found no link between a moderate consumption of calcium (about 800 mg a day, two-thirds of the RDA) and prostate cancer. In addition, a randomized clinical trial of calcium supplements of 1,200 mg a day found no effect on the prostate, but only 327 men were in the calcium group, and the supplementation lasted just four years. Finally, the Harvard scientists speculate that a high consumption of vitamin D may offset the possible risks of calcium, so a daily multivitamin may also help.
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).
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.