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Women's experience of health and disease differ from those of men, due to unique biological, social and behavioural conditions. Biological differences vary all the way from phenotype to the cellular, and manifest unique risks for the development of ill health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". Women's health is an example of population health, the health of a specific defined population.
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.
Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid 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) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.
Vitamin D: Over the past decade, dozens of studies have revealed many important roles for vitamin D, the nutrient that skin cells produce when they are exposed to sunlight. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 600 IU per day, although recommended levels are under review. If you avoid the sun or live in the northern half of the U.S., ask your doctor whether your vitamin D level should be tested.
For this comprehensive narrative review, we evaluated both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions. Nutrition-specific approaches are those that address the immediate determinants of nutrition (e.g., food and nutrient intake, diet-related practices and behaviors, disease, etc.), whereas nutrition-sensitive approaches are those that address the underlying determinants of nutrition (e.g., food security, access to resources, safe and hygienic environments, adequate health services, etc.) (5, 12). We evaluated the following nutrition-specific interventions described by Bhutta et al. (13, 14): nutrition counseling and education, micronutrient supplementation and fortification, protein and energy supplementation, and lipid-based supplementation. We also included the following nutrition-sensitive approaches described by Ruel and Alderman (5) and Bhutta et al. (14): health care; family planning; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); empowerment; income-generation; education; and social protection. For each intervention, we 1) described the scale and coverage of the intervention, when available; 2) summarized the evidence of effectiveness for women's health and nutrition outcomes; and 3) described and evaluated the target population and delivery platforms, as described in the published articles and as summarized in Table 1. The delivery of interventions included the physical platforms, as well as the adherence and the implementation challenges of the different interventions.
Lipid-based nutrient supplement (LNS) programs are intended to enrich diets with micronutrients and essential fatty acids (97), and are often used in emergency settings to meet nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women (98). Of the studies that report on women's health outcomes, LNSs provided to pregnant and lactating women increased body weight and midupper arm circumference, particularly of multiparous women and women >25 y of age (99). They were associated with increased plasma α-linoleic acid, although not plasma lipids and other fatty acids (100). LNSs did not affect women's immune responses, particularly pregnant women's anti-malarial antibody responses (101). There was limited evidence connecting LNS supplementation to unhealthy weight gain and retention, and this is being explored in ongoing studies in Ghana (97).
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death (30%) amongst women in the United States, and the leading cause of chronic disease amongst them, affecting nearly 40% (Gronowski and Schindler, Tables I and IV). The onset occurs at a later age in women than in men. For instance the incidence of stroke in women under the age of 80 is less than that in men, but higher in those aged over 80. Overall the lifetime risk of stroke in women exceeds that in men. The risk of cardiovascular disease amongst those with diabetes and amongst smokers is also higher in women than in men. Many aspects of cardiovascular disease vary between women and men, including risk factors, prevalence, physiology, symptoms, response to intervention and outcome.
WHO (1948). "WHO definition of Health". Archived from the original (Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19–22 June 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.) on 7 July 2016. Retrieved 6 July 2016., in WHO (2016)
Almost 25% of women will experience mental health issues over their lifetime. Women are at higher risk than men from anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic complaints. Globally, depression is the leading disease burden. In the United States, women have depression twice as often as men. The economic costs of depression in American women are estimated to be $20 billion every year. The risks of depression in women have been linked to changing hormonal environment that women experience, including puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and the menopause. Women also metabolise drugs used to treat depression differently to men. Suicide rates are less in women than men (<1% vs. 2.4%), but are a leading cause of death for women under the age of 60.
Women, as we age, are also more susceptible to the breakdown of our bones, which may result in osteoporosis over time. Genetically, women have a particularly high risk of osteoporosis compared to men, so it’s recommended that women monitor their calcium intake to be sure they’re getting enough. Weight training is another great way (and my favorite!) to build bone density, which is another great reason you should hit the weights!
Where Women’s Health may encourage its readers to take time for themselves, Men’s Health encourages its followers to “10x Your Life: Get More Done, Waste Less Time,” which I guess is comparable. Instead of many long-form articles, Men’s Health doles out info in short column bits with lots of graphics—the better for men to process quickly at the gym/in the barber chair/on the train?
Similarly, the interview with Brooks is great, highlighting the beauty of her latest Lane Bryant ad with Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, and Denise Bidot. Which makes it even harder to get past the “How to finally lose those last 5 pounds” tip posted on the front page of the magazine’s website. Mixed messages, Shape. Is it “love your shape” or “keep striving for hard-to-obtain body goals”?
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.