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Nutrition and Physical Activity:

Information for Professionals - Frequently Asked Questions

MO-07-0088 NUPA

Why do women of childbearing age need iron?  How much do they need and what are the sources? 

Iron, a mineral, is an essential micronutrient that is in all cells of the human body and is known to have many vital functions. Inadequate intake and absorption of iron leads to depletion of iron stores and iron deficiency anemia.  This may cause people to be pale, feel tired and weak, act cranky, get sick more easily, get infections, develop lead poisoning and headaches, eat poorly, and have trouble learning.  A large percentage of American women do not meet the dietary recommendations for iron.  Adequate iron intake through a varied diet of iron rich, bioavailable foods and / or iron supplementation significantly reduces iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia (microcytic hypochromic anemia), in which the size and number of red blood cells are reduced. Information and educational materials that you can use with your clients can be found at Anemia Resources.

What are the risk factors for rickets in young children?  What are the recommendations for vitamin D intake for this population?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be consumed or created by the body given enough sun exposure.  However, due to concerns about excessive sun exposure, it has been necessary to stress the importance of increasing dietary vitamin D.  Lack of vitamin D can lead to brittle bones and rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.  Steps to ensure appropriate vitamin D supplementation should be provided in situations where there is a risk of vitamin D deficiency, such as lack of dietary vitamin D, restricted sunlight exposure, or dark skin.  The California Department of Health Services endorses the AAP guidelines on vitamin D supplementation. For more information, see Vitamin D Resources.

Why do women of childbearing age need folic acid?  How much do they need and what are the sources? 

Everyone requires the water-soluble B vitamin folate / folic acid, an essential micronutrient. Folate is required for DNA synthesis and cell division, red blood cell formation, some metabolic reactions involving lipids (fats) and amino acids (proteins), and it functions as a coenzyme.  Women of childbearing age can improve birth outcomes and decrease the risk of birth defects by ensuring adequate folic acid intake. Because of the rapid maternal and fetal cell division and tissue growth of pregnancy, especially in the first months, there is an increase in folate requirements.  As it is an essential factor to reduce the risk of serious birth defects during the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before the woman is aware of her pregnancy, it is recommended that women begin taking additional folic acid during her childbearing years, including prior to pregnancy and during pregnancy and lactation. This daily consumption of folic acid prior to pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) by 50-75%.  Background information is avaiable here (PDF)Opens a new browser window.and NTD Prevention with Folic Acid: Helping to Ensure a Healthier Future (PDF)Opens a new browser window.

Educational material can be found at Folic Acid ResourcesTrends in Folic Acid Supplement Intake among Women of Reproductive Age - California, 2002-2006, reports on folic acid supplement intake in California.

What are the current guidelines regarding “normal” infant feeding?

Infant feeding is the feeding of a child from birth to one year of age. “Normal” infant feeding is defined as breastfeeding for at least the first year of life and introduction of iron-rich complementary foods around 6 months of age. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human breast milk is the optimal food for human infants.   Normal Infant Feeding, 0-12 months, (PDF)Opens a new browser window.provides guidelines for normal infant feeding.

What are the current recommendations for preventing dental caries in families with young children?

Dental caries (tooth decay) is an infectious and transmissible disease that affects disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities in California. However, this condition is preventable. The Stop the Spread of Tooth Decay educational materials were developed for use as part of a comprehensive dental public health strategy to prevent tooth decay among mothers and their children.  For more information on oral health, click here

What is the relationship of maternal weight to birth outcomes and what are the related recommendations?

Strong evidence exists that obesity can begin to develop very early on in life, and that the prevention and control of obesity in women of childbearing age needs to be addressed. The nutritional well-being of a woman before conception, during pregnancy, post-partum, and during lactation affects her health and the health of her child. Maternal obesity affects a woman’s health and pregnancy outcome, and threatens her child’s health from the fetal period through adulthood. Maternal overweight may increase risks for overweight and obesity in their children. For more information, see Healthy Weight Among Women of Reproductive Age.

What are the guidelines for normal nutrition and physical activity for adolescents? 

Adolescence is the only time following infancy when the rate of growth actually increases.  This sudden growth spurt is associated with hormonal, cognitive, and emotional changes that make adolescence an especially vulnerable period of life nutritionally. First, there is a greater demand for calories and nutrients due to the dramatic increase in physical growth and development over a relatively short period of time.  Second, adolescence is a time of changing lifestyle and food habit changes which affect both nutrient needs and intake.  Studies have shown that nearly half of all adolescents are not physically active on a regular basis, and female adolescents are much less physically active than male adolescents.  Physical inactivity and poor diet are risk factors for many of the same health conditions: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and others. Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Adolescents provides useful guidelines, assessments and tools for counseling Easy Meals and Snacks:  A Healthy Cookbook for Teens can assist you in your counseling.

What are the calcium needs for women of reproductive age?

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, performs an essential role in bone and tooth formation, blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve transmission and in the regulation of energy metabolism.  The intake of calcium from dietary or supplement sources and its absorption, retention and metabolism have critical consequences throughout the lifespan. To maintain positive calcium balance, adequate intake of bioavailable, naturally calcium-rich or fortified foods, calcium supplements or a combination of these is needed. The package of nutrients in dairy foods – calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, protein, and vitamin D – ensure optimal absorption and utilization by the body for bone health and other physiological processes.  For more information see Calcium Resources.

Why is good nutrition important before getting pregnant?

The most critical periods of fetal development occur in the earliest weeks following conception, before many women even know they are pregnant. Since prenatal care usually begins at week 11 or 12, it is often too late to prevent a number of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes. In addition, because so many pregnancies are unplanned (41% among 18-44 year old women giving birth in California in 2005), women frequently conceive while in less than optimal health or while engaging in behaviors that can harm a pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy outcome is influenced by a woman’s medical history and preconception health status. In the report, Preconception Health: Selected Measures, California, 2005 (PDF, 1.8MB)Opens a new browser window.,chapters 7, 10 and 11 address the needs of good nutrition before pregnancy.  More information on folic acid is available folic acid is available here (PDF)Opens a new browser window..  Complimentary educational material can be found at Folic Acid Resources.   Trends in Folic Acid Supplement Intake among Women of Reproductive Age - California, 2002-2006, reports on folic acid supplement intake in California.

Last modified on: 1/2/2013 1:07 PM