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.
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We conducted a comprehensive narrative review to synthesize the existing literature on interventions targeting women's nutrition (11). We searched the PubMed database and Google Scholar from 1990 to December 2017 for peer-reviewed articles, systematic reviews, and grey literature that reported on a set of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, outlined in what follows. We also reviewed the cited sources of key articles. When available, we used existing reviews to identify studies. Some of the review articles that emerged from our search included both high-income countries and low- and middle-income countries. When possible, we specified the delivery platforms for low- and middle-income countries. For review articles that did not explicitly describe the intervention delivery platforms, we reviewed the cited primary sources to identify the delivery platform for the discussed interventions.
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).
A healthy vegetarian diet falls within the guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) may want to consider vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. You can obtain what you need from non-animal sources. For instance:
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Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
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.