Nutrition in Pregnancy
Fact Sheet on Youth Reproductive Health Policy
Good maternal nutrition is a central element of reproductive health. Malnutrition has a number of negative consequences for both young mothers and their infants. Moreover, good nutrition brings a wide range of health and productivity benefits in addition to those related to pregnancy.
Its Importance as a Youth Reproductive Health Issue
Key Areas for Policy Action
- Nutritional deficiency conditions such as iron deficiency anemia are widespread in both young men and women.
- Chronic undernutrition causes stunting, delays growth and physical maturation, and increases risk to pregnant teens and their newborns.
- Good nutrition is important for creating a better fetal environment; girls are at higher risk of delivering low birth weight babies if they are too thin (low body mass index) at the time of conception. Poor pregnancy weight gain is another important determinant of poor fetal and infant health outcomes.
- Nutrition also has an impact on other areas of reproductive health. For example, micronutrient deficiencies may speed the development of full-blown AIDS in an HIV-positive girl. Furthermore, mothers with advanced HIV diseases who are undernourished may have an increased risk of passing the virus to their babies.
- Good nutrition in pregnancy is related to better overall nutrition for adolescents.
Nutrition policy is complex, often involving a variety of sectors including health and agriculture. Those programs that aim to improve maternal nutrition tend to lump adolescents with other pregnant women and do not tailor advice to adolescents. There is a critical need for policies that recognize the special nutritional needs of youth. These should:
The State of Policy Making
- Address the underlying causes of malnutrition. Policy should promote efforts to postpone and prevent adolescent pregnancy to reduce nutritional losses; promote greater access to and control over food by adolescents; and advance gender equity.
- Emphasize the need to alleviate malnutrition in girls prior to and early in pregnancy. Policy should promote nutrition education, food fortification; iron and folate supplementation; and deworming by reaching girls in schools or through other venues. Health messages should stress good nutrition early in adolescence, then stress links with reproductive health outcomes as girls mature.
- Create a supportive environment for behavior change communications, laying the groundwork for parents and young people to improve nutrition.
- Link nutrition with HIV care and prevention.
- Address overnutrition problems. Overnutrition is becoming a problem in many countries. That may be more persuasive (than undernutrition) for some national governments, because of future costs of caring for chronic disease.
- Include consideration of boys. Anemia and other malnutrition affects boys as much or more than girls. Moreover, programs that target men as well as women with messages on nutrition in pregnancy produce better birth outcomes.
Policies and programs specifically targeting nutrition for adolescents have been relatively lacking. Although solutions exist for the pregnancy-related nutrition problems that adolescents face, relatively few have been implemented.
Search for policies related to nutrition in the policy database.
Research Findings to Support Policy Development
Reducing Iron-Deficiency Anemia and Changing Dietary Behaviors among Adolescent Girls in India (39kb). Results from a recent study conducted by International Center for Research on Women and its partners.
Related Links and Resources
Adolescent Nutrition at-a-Glance. This World Bank publication provides a brief overview of adolescent nutrition problems and program and policy responses.
Should Adolescents be Specifically Targeted for Nutrition in Developing Countries: To Address which Problems and how? (309kb) A publication of the Child and Adolescent Health Unit at WHO.
Q. Why is anemia such as important issue in adolescent nutrition?
Iron deficiency and anemia are associated with impaired cognitive functioning, lower school achievement, and most likely lower physical work capacity. WHO estimates that 27 percent of adolescents in developing countries are anemic; ICRW studies documented high rates in India (55 percent), Nepal (42 percent), Cameroon (32 percent), and Guatemala (48 percent). Adolescents (both boys and girls) are at risk of developing iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia because of the increased iron requirements for growth. Infectious diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and hookworm affect both boys and girls, contributing to anemia by affecting the absorption of or increasing the loss of iron. Following the end of their growth spurt, boys rapidly regain adequate iron status, whereas girls may continue to be or become more deficient because of the increased requirements for iron due to menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation (Adapted from Adolescent Nutrition at-a-Glance, World Bank, 2003).