Micronutrient supplementation programs for vitamin A, iron and folic acid, calcium, zinc, and multiple micronutrients effectively impacted the micronutrient status of pregnant and lactating women, as well as women of reproductive age and adolescent girls (13, 14, 33, 35–48). Interventions making use of multiple micronutrients were more effective at changing plasma micronutrient concentrations than interventions focused solely on 1 nutrient alone (38, 42). In countries with comprehensive programs for iron supplementation during pregnancy, anemia prevalence dropped (1, 49). Positive health impacts of supplementation were most notable among pregnant women who were deficient and at risk of low intake (43, 50). However, there were some studies that showed inconsistent or limited evidence for the effectiveness of supplementation on other maternal health outcomes (31, 51–58).
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.
You should eat a healthful, well-balanced diet during pregnancy. However, you should avoid certain foods, including raw or undercooked fish, poultry and meat; raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs; unpasteurized juices; raw sprouts; unpasteurized milk products; and some soft cheeses (cream cheese is OK). Avoid deli meats and frankfurters unless they have been reheated to steaming hot before eating. To prevent food-borne illnesses, take the following precautions:
As women, many of us are prone to neglecting our own dietary needs. You may feel you’re too busy to eat right, used to putting the needs of your family first, or trying to adhere to an extreme diet that leaves you short on vital nutrients and feeling cranky, hungry, and low on energy. Women’s specific needs are often neglected by dietary research, too. Studies tend to rely on male subjects whose hormone levels are more stable and predictable, thus sometimes making the results irrelevant or even misleading to women’s needs. All this can add up to serious shortfalls in your daily nutrition.
WASH interventions were typically community-based. WASH interventions were delivered to households and communities through community mobilization, mass media, home visits, and infrastructural development (126, 130, 136–138). There were some examples of facility-based delivery of WASH interventions, such as in health clinics and schools (139, 140); however, this was not representative of the majority of delivery platform coverage. Health clinic delivery platforms had limited reach, often targeting pregnant women and women with young children. In an evaluation of WASH interventions delivered in India (141), more demanding behavioral practices, such as handwashing and consistent use of latrines, required more intense contact (e.g., multiple home visits) than less intense interventions, such as sweeping of courtyards, that could be effectively delivered in small group meetings such as those in health clinics and community centers. More research is needed to evaluate the benefits and barriers of different delivery platforms for women across the life course.
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.