Posts

By Marion Roche, PhD

The target set out by the World Health Assembly is to reduce the anemia in all women of reproductive age by 50% by 2025. Women make up about 3.5 billion in population on our planet. In order to reach this World Health Assembly target, it will be essential to address anemia in the 600 million adolescent girls in the world and recently their nutrition has been getting more attention.

The global birth rate has declined over the past decade, except when analyzing the rate for adolescent girls, with 17-20 million adolescent pregnancies per year. Eleven percent of all pregnancies are to adolescents and 95% of these adolescent pregnancies are occurring in developing countries.

Complications from pregnancy and child birth are the second greatest contributor to mortality for girls 15-19 years of age. Young maternal age increases the risk for anemia during pregnancy, yet adolescent women are less likely to be covered by health services, including micronutrient supplementation, than older women. Compared with older mothers, pregnancy during adolescence is associated with a 50% increased risk of stillbirths and neonatal deaths, and greater risk of preterm birth, low birth weight and small for gestational age (SGA) (Bhutta et al, 2013; Kozuki et al, 2013; Gibbs et al, 2012).

Reducing anemia in adolescents is often motivated by efforts to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes for pregnant adolescents; however, benefits for improving adolescent school performance and productivity at work and in their personal lives should also be valued.

Globally, iron deficiency anaemia is the third most important cause of lost disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in adolescents worldwide at 3%, behind alcohol and unsafe sex (Sawyer et al, 2012).

Adolescents have among the highest energy needs in their diets, yet in developing countries many of them struggle to meet their micronutrient needs. The World Health Organization recommends intermittent or weekly Iron Folic Acid Supplements for non-pregnant women of reproductive age, including adolescent girls. IFA supplementation programs have often been designed to be delivered through the existing health systems, without specific strategies for reaching adolescent girls.

I have heard adolescence referred to as “the awkward years” when individuals explore self-expression and autonomy, but it is also definitely an awkward period for public health services in terms of delivering nutrition, as we often fail to reach this age group.

There have been examples of programs going beyond the health system to reach adolescent girls, such as through schools, peer outreach, factory settings where adolescents work in some countries and even sales in private pharmacies to target middle and upper income adolescent girls.
The Micronutrient Initiative implemented a pilot project with promising results in Chhattisgarh, India where teachers distributed the IFA supplements to 66,709 female students once per week during the school year over a 2 year pilot.

It was new for the schools to become involved in distribution of health commodities, but engaged teachers proved to be effective advocates. There were also efforts to reach the even more vulnerable out of school girls through the integrated child development centers, yet this proved to be a more challenging group of adolescents to reach. Peer to peer outreach by the school girls offered a potential strategy. The current project is being scaled up to reach over 3.5 million school girls.

Adolescent girls have much to offer to their friends, families and communities beyond being potential future mothers. It is time to get them the nutrients they need to thrive in school, work and life.

The other day I was sitting in class and the professor showed us a music video that compared sugar to drugs, which really got me thinking about the types of nutrition messaging. There are many campaigns out there targeting nutrition-related areas for change, particularly in the childhood obesity arena. However, many of these campaigns use bold images and scare-tactics to convey the message. Is this the approach we should be taking to create a healthier change?

The obesity epidemic has sparked an urgent need for preventative action. The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2012, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation, which expressed the need for transformative approaches to changing the environment, especially for “messaging environments.” Due to the increased use of social marketing, product marketing and labeling, and public media campaigns, the potential for utilizing communication in the prevention of obesity is great (1). There have been many campaigns floating around the media in the past decade. A memorable one was Strong4Life, which was created in 2011 by Children’s HealthCare of Atlanta, a leading pediatric hospital. This initiative used “in-your-face advertising” to aggressively fight Georgia’s childhood obesity problem (1). The initial advertisements featured somber children describing their struggles with obesity (1).

These advertisements generated concern among public health experts due to the fear that the portrayals of overweight children could intensify the weight-based stigma (1). This type of message emphasized the negative health and social consequences of obesity. Health communications can be framed to emphasize either the benefits of participating in a type of behavior (a gain-frame), or the consequences of not participating in a type of behavior (a loss-frame) (2). There is evidence that suggests non-stereotypical, positive media portrayals of obese and overweight individuals can effectively decrease weight-based stigma, while negative portrayals may even worsen the stigma (3). Further, gain-framed communications seem to be more effective than loss-framed communications in endorsing prevention behaviors (2). When the message is framed to stimulate core values, the persuasion factor increases, since the person is more likely to pay attention and accept the message (4).

Campaigns should highlight information that is new to the desired audience and necessary for behavior change (5). It would be useful for health communications to incorporate the “how to” and “when to” knowledge in order to support behavior change (5). Also, misconceptions about the issue may need to be addressed, along with other real and perceived barriers to behavior change (5). Ideally, before public release, communication strategies should be evaluated to determine how effective they would be in supporting the target outcome and without exacerbating any sort of stigma (1). As the use of technology continues to increase, there certainly will be no shortage of health campaigns. Hopefully, the messages will be effective in inspiring positive health changes without creating negative stigma or fear.

References
1. Barry CL, Gollust SE, McGinty EE, Niederdeppe J. Effects of messages from a media campaign to increase public awareness of childhood obesity. Obesity, 2014; 22: 466–473. doi:10.1002/oby.20570
2. Gallagher KM, Updegraff JA. Health message framing effects on attitudes, intentions, and behavior: A meta-analytic review. Ann Behav Med, 2012; 43: 101–116. doi:10.1007/s12160-011-9308-7
3. Pearl RL, Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Positive media portrayals of obese persons: impact on attitudes and image preferences. Health Psychol, 2012; 31: 821–829. doi:10.1037/a0027189
4. Gollust SE, Niederdeppe J, Barry CL. Framing the consequences of childhood obesity to increase public support for obesity prevention policy. Am J Public Health, 2013; 103: e96–e102. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301271
5. Snyder, LB. Health communication campaigns and their impact on behavior. J Nutr Educ Behav, 2007; 39: S32–S40. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2006.09.004