HEALTH STATUS > HEALTH BEHAVIORS

NUTRITION

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommend that Americans eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages while staying within their calorie needs. For most people, this means eating an assortment of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk products while limiting sugar, sodium, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and alcohol.1 Two dietary nutrients that are especially important to women are folate (or folic acid) and calcium. Folate is a B vitamin that supports growth and development, prevents certain birth defects and anemia during pregnancy, and may lower the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is vitally important to bone health; inadequate calcium intake can lead to osteoporosis, which may result in painful fractures and disability.

Despite their importance, many women are not consuming enough folate or calcium. In 1999-2002, only 19.9 percent of women consumed the recommended amount of calcium through their diets (not including supplements). One quarter of women ages 19 to 50 consumed 1000 mg/day, the recommended amount for that age group; only 11.4 percent of women ages 51 and older consumed the recommended 1200 mg/day. Non-Hispanic White women were most likely to consume enough calcium (22.8 percent), while non-Hispanic Black women were least likely (9.9 percent).Women were much more likely to have an RBC (red blood cell) folate level of at least 220 ng/ml, the amount set as a goal for the Nation in Healthy People 2010. Overall, 73.9 percent of women had this folate level, although this varied widely by age. Two-thirds of women ages 18 to 44 had RBC folate levels of at least 220 ng/ml, while 83 percent of women ages 75 and older had the same. Non-Hispanic White women were most likely to have a RBC folate level of at least 220 ng/ml (79.4 percent), while non-Hispanic Black women were least likely (47.2 percent).

Graph: Women's Intake of Folate and Calcium by Age[d]

Graph: Women's Intake of Folate and Calcium by Race/Ethnicity[d]

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th edition, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.