Not surprisingly, many integrated health services were delivered in health clinics and facilities. Many women faced barriers to health facility–based care for nutrition, such as distance, time, quality of care, stocking of supplies, and the capacity and nutrition knowledge of healthcare professionals (105, 119). These barriers need to be taken into consideration to enhance the coverage of integrated health care services. Universal health care mitigated cost barriers to seeking health care, but did not address all of the barriers noted here (105, 109, 114, 120–123).
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).
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).
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.