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The Overlooked Ingredient: Lack of Focus on Nutrition in Women's Health Strategies

Authors – Ramya Rajaram, Ilakkiya Ezhilmaran

Editors – Prof Sumantra (Shumone) Ray, Mayara De Paula


Discussions on women's health policy often centre on reproductive health, breast cancer awareness, mental health, and general well-being. Despite the importance of these subjects, nutrition, which plays a crucial role in women’s health at all stages of life, frequently goes unnoticed. In recognition of the gap in the evidence base and the need to boost health outcomes, the UK Government developed the First Women’s Health Strategy. This 10-year plan considers the need for increased participation of women in vital research and an enhanced evidence base. It also provides improved access to health services, dissemination of accurate information on women’s health, and addresses health disparities among women. However, there was a clear lack of focus on nutrition and its considerable impact on women’s health. This is further highlighted by the inclusion of significant priority areas impacted by good nutrition, including menstrual and reproductive health, mental wellbeing, and healthy ageing. This highlights the need to recognise the role of nutrition in ensuring the overall wellbeing of women and further inculcate it into the framework.


Nutrition affects many facets of a woman's life and serves as the cornerstone of general health and well-being including hormonal balance, bone health, cardiovascular health, mental health, reproductive health, and preventing chronic illnesses [1]. A balanced diet can ease menstruation pain, lower osteoporosis risk, promote a safe pregnancy, increase energy levels, and improve mental clarity [2]. Due to physiological and hormonal changes, women's dietary needs are different. For instance, to compensate for monthly blood loss and prevent iron deficiency anemia, women require higher iron consumption. Folic acid and iron are even more critical during pregnancy to enhance fetal development and reduce the risk of birth abnormalities. Menopausal women may also need certain nutrients to cope with their symptoms and maintain good bone health. Women's health and quality of life may suffer significantly if these specific dietary requirements are ignored.


Nutrition is not given enough attention in women's health policies for several reasons. A contributing element is the lack of knowledge and awareness of how diet affects general health. Additionally, external appearance is frequently emphasized by cultural and societal influences, which place an excessive emphasis on dieting or weight loss rather than good nutrition. Moreover, women may find it difficult to prioritize their nutritional needs due to time restraints, hectic lifestyles, and unreliable nutrition information. A change to a more all-encompassing and holistic strategy is required to overcome the lack of attention given to nutrition in women's health programmes.


Here are 5 crucial actions that could encourage change:

1. Education and Information: From an early age, more people should be taught about the importance of diet in women's health. To promote optimal health, emphasize the necessity of providing the body with a range of comprehensive meals.

2. Collaborative Initiatives: Encourage cooperation between nutritionists, politicians, and women's health advocates to provide evidence-based recommendations and tactics that give nutrition the top priority in women's health initiatives.

3. Accessible Nutritional Support: Make nutritional support services, such as consultations with qualified dietitians or nutritionists readily available and reasonably priced, especially for women in marginalized groups who could experience additional difficulty gaining access to healthy food.

4. Complete Wellness Programmes: Include nutrition in complete wellness programmes that include targeted stress reduction, physical exercise, and mental health. This method acknowledges how these components are related to one another and how affect women's health.

5. Encourage women to take an active part in their own health by giving them the information and resources they need to make appropriate dietary decisions. To promote a healthy connection with food and self-care. This might include educational resources, culinary lessons, and support networks.


It's time to acknowledge the crucial part diet plays in strategies to improve women's health. We can empower women to prioritise their health, prevent chronic illnesses, and attain optimal well-being at every stage of life by addressing this substantial gap and incorporating nutrition into holistic approaches. By doing so, we can build a more resilient and healthy society where women can thrive.


For the sake of women, let's give nutrition the attention it requires.


References

1. Feskens EJ, Bailey R, Bhutta Z, Biesalski HK, Eicher-Miller H, Krämer K, Pan WH, Griffiths JC. Women’s health: optimal nutrition throughout the lifecycle. European journal of nutrition. 2022 Jun;61(Suppl 1):1-23.

2. Krummel DA, Kris-Etherton PM. Nutrition in women's health. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 1996.

3. Quisumbing AR, Brown LR, Feldstein HS, Haddad L, Peña C. Women: The key to food security. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. 1996 Mar;17(1):1-2.



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