Social protection interventions are intended to support vulnerable households by providing them with in-kind (e.g., food) or cash transfers. The impact of social protection on women's nutrition was nuanced, as such interventions were associated with protecting against adverse nutrition outcomes, but were also associated with excess weight gain in some settings. In-kind transfers, including food baskets, fortified foods, and school lunches, improved women's and adolescent girls’ energy and micronutrient intakes, as described in the preceding sections. Both CCTs and unconditional cash transfers were common around the world and were associated with improvements in health care utilization and increased food expenditures (5, 14, 195, 196). CCTs were dependent on “conditions” such as school attendance and health care utilization. For children in Burkina Faso, CCTs were associated with greater numbers of preventative health visits compared with unconditional cash transfers (197), and this could be relevant to adult women's health care utilization as well. Unconditional cash transfers, such as old-age pensions, were also common, including in low- and middle-income countries (5, 198). Older women who received pensions had fewer missed meals (199), although evidence was mixed (200). In South Africa, granddaughters who cohabitated with women who received pensions had improved anthropometric measures and fewer missed meals, indicating spillover effects of pension transfers (199, 201).
By contrast, ovarian cancer, the leading cause of reproductive organ cancer deaths, and the fifth commonest cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States, lacks an effective screening programme, and is predominantly a disease of women in industrialised countries. Because it is largely asymptomatic in its earliest stages, more than 50% of women have stage III or higher cancer (spread beyond the ovaries) by the time they are diagnosed, with a consequent poor prognosis.
There were also supplementation programs that targeted nonpregnant women. National supplementation programs that provided food baskets to low-income families increased maternal BMI and improved household food insecurity (92, 93). However, there were some unintended consequences. In Mexico, food transfer programs disproportionately increased weight gain in overweight women compared with underweight women (93), and 1 study in Bangladesh found that food transfers had larger impacts on men's intake than women's intake, except with less preferred foods (94). Adolescents who received protein-energy supplementation at school showed an increase in weight gain during supplementation, as well as improvements in school attendance and mathematics scores (46, 95). However, the impact of supplementation on micronutrient deficiencies and, specifically, hemoglobin concentration, was limited (46).
Calcium: “Getting enough calcium is important for all ages, but it's particularly important during adolescence and early adulthood, when bones are absorbing calcium,” says Heather Schwartz, MS, RD, a medical nutrition therapist at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics. Calcium and vitamin D are often paired in fortified foods such as milk. The reason: The body needs D in order to absorb calcium.
A number of implementation challenges exist for micronutrient supplementation. Access to care is often associated with socioeconomic status and may influence women's access to and use of supplementation programs. For instance, in one study, the highest wealth quintile of pregnant women had the highest use of iron and folic acid supplementation during antenatal care (33). However, even for women who have access to micronutrient supplements, the coverage and quality of micronutrient supplementation programs were limited (39). Incorrect doses, inadequate supplies, and incomplete adherence were major limitations (33), and poorly performing programs had limited impact on nutrition outcomes (59). Integration of supplementation programs with behavior change interventions improved knowledge, adherence, and coverage of supplementation interventions (32, 33, 60). The use of local micronutrient-rich foods can also help overcome limitations associated with supplement provision. In Nepal, improvements in the dark adaptation of night-blind pregnant women did not differ significantly between food and synthetic sources of vitamin A (61). When available, consumption of micronutrient-rich foods can be as effective as micronutrient supplements.