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).
Interventions resulting in public infrastructure changes were found to be less effective than household-based interventions; however, both are important aspects of improved health outcomes for women (128, 130). Public water infrastructure requires regular maintenance and periodic replacement and water from these sources is often contaminated (130). However, even public water points that provide good-quality water have had minimal impacts on health outcomes (136). One review estimated that water-source interventions were associated with a 27% reduction in diarrhea risk at all ages, whereas household-based interventions were associated with a 43% reduction (128). This could be associated with bias and confounding, as measuring WASH outcomes is not a blinded process (128). The differential impact could also be related to practice. As compared with public water sources, home water connections were associated with greater odds of handwashing and fecal waste disposal (136). As a significant portion of diarrheal disease is a result of person-to-person transmission and poor hygiene, interventions that improve domestic hygiene behaviors can have a significant impact (136). Behavior change communication and resource provision, e.g., soap and point-of-use water treatment resources, were also important and sustainable aspects of WASH interventions (131, 137).
Our findings identified gaps and limitations in the evaluation, scope, targeting, and delivery platforms of nutrition interventions in low- and middle-income countries. First, the monitoring and evaluation of nutrition programs that reported on women's nutrition outcomes was generally inadequate. Many of the studies we identified included small-scale efficacy trials. Although there were many large-scale programs that targeted women and adolescent girls with nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive approaches, they lacked rigorous evaluation. Whether the evidence about women's outcomes was limited because they are not systematically measured or because they are not well reported is not clear. Negative results are often not published, and many evaluations of nutrition interventions that are conducted by the same groups responsible for implementing them are typically presented positively. This may have also skewed our findings. More intentional research-quality program evaluation, including of large-scale programs, would provide a stronger evidence base. Of the studies identified in this review, many reported on short-term findings such as changes in knowledge, dietary behaviors, and program coverage. They were limited in their ability to report clinical and anthropometric outcomes for women, the duration of those outcomes, and the feasibility of scaling up programs. There is also a need for systematic, long-term evaluations of interventions whose effects on nutrition outcomes are more distal (e.g., nutrition education compared with micronutrient supplementation). The effects of multisectoral interventions are even more complex to measure. However, frameworks exist to evaluate complex interventions (102) and could be utilized to evaluate the impact of interventions across the life course.