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Nutrition Month Focuses on Women


Nutrition Month is an annual campaign put on by Dietitians of Canada. This year the campaign theme is focused on helping women find solutions to healthy eating challenges- for themselves and their families. Throughout the month of March this column will tackle some of the key food and nutrition issues affecting women so they can move forward making healthy eating … tasty and easy.


*[Image Goes Here]*      Women have unique nutrition needs throughout the many stages of their lives. Eating well at all times is vital to help them feel good and protect their health. Statistics continue to show that despite their best intentions, to eat well and be more active, women are often too busy juggling work and family life to make this happen. Believe it or not, women still bear most of the responsibility for their family’s nutrition and well-being. Typically women are the one’s making the decisions about what and how their family eats. They also do most of the grocery shopping and meal preparation. Stressors such as lack of time, the cost of feeding a family, access to healthy foods, and lack of support at home all affect their food decisions and ultimately their health and nutritional well-being.


The leading health concerns of women include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The key strategies to reduce your risk for each of these conditions are the same – eating well, keeping physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight and not smoking.


Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading health concern for women, accounting for 37% of all female deaths in 1999. Women who smoke and use birth control pills are at a greater risk of CVD. This risk also increases after menopause. Women of South Asian and First Nations descent have higher rates of CVD than women of European or Chinese decent. Also, a poor diet, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, obesity and central adiposity (apple shape body), diabetes, high blood pressure and lack of physical activity all increase a women’s risk of developing CVD.


Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Canada, accounting for 27.6% of female deaths in 1999. Women in the 20-44 age group are dying of cancer in greater numbers then men. Factors such as heredity, smoking, poor diet, overweight, some hormone replacement regimens, and physical inactivity affect cancer risk. It is estimated that between 30 and 40% of all cancers can be prevented through a combination of healthy eating, regular activity and achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.


Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in Canada. Currently deaths due to diabetes are higher in women than in men. 90% of Canadians with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The risk factors for type 2 diabetes include older age, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance (diagnosed by a medical doctor), being of First Nations, African, Latin American, or Asian decent, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, central adiposity and sedentary lifestyle. A 10% weight loss in overweight individuals substantially decreases the risk of developing diabetes. Also studies suggest that physical activity can reduce the risk of type 2 Diabetes by up to 50%.


1.4 million Canadians suffer from Osteoporosis including 1 in 4 women. Osteoporosis can result in disfigurement, lowered self-esteem, reduction or loss of mobility, and decreased independence. Risk factors for osteoporosis are: low bone mineral density, prior fragility fracture, age, family history of osteoporosis, early menopause, life-long low dietary intake of calcium and Vitamin D or lack of sunlight exposure, inactivity, smoking, and excessive caffeine and alcohol intake.


In the coming weeks this column will identify the challenges women face in achieving good nutrition and healthy living practices. Several strategies will be discussed to help women overcome these challenges and reduce their risk of developing disease


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