The first 20 years of a woman's life are the most crucial for her health. It is during this time that one learns about food and adopts eating patterns that dictate the way one eats through one's life.
The first two decades also encompass the crucial stages of growth during which one develops organs, skeletons, muscles and the foundation of one's health. Adolescence brings about the first awareness of one's body. Girls typically develop body images dictated by the "size zero" heroines, models and their peers. The gym becomes the "in" place to be seen at while fad diets do hectic rounds.
Adolescence is a time when the main growth spurt occurs, usually between ages 11 and 16. Girls grow up to 10 cm (4 inches) in a year and put on up to 8 kg (18 lb). When menstruation begins, girls need more iron as well as calcium and zinc. Irregular and painful periods can be caused by nutritional deficiencies brought on with regular, home-cooked meals being replaced by daily doses of sweets, packaged snacks and fizzy drinks. Meals at fast food outlets typically contain too much salt, fat, chemical additives, preservatives and sugar. They are also low on fibre.
As women grow older, start their careers and become wives and mothers, they are pressured to excel in every sphere. Health often comes last on their list of priorities. Unfortunately, an unhealthy mother not just produces weak children but also affects the functioning of the entire household. At menopause, women's health sins tend to catch up with them. The hormonal "suraksha kavach" that protects women during the reproductive age melts away. For every known risk factor, women become twice as vulnerable as men: be it osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes or hypertension.
At some level, most women know that being healthy comes down to taking care of oneself: from what they eat, when and how much, to the quantum of physical activity that they get. Hardly rocket science. All one needs is the will to take those crucial small steps in the right direction.