Pregnancy is often described as a period in life where women would be very motivated to adhere to a healthy diet. Yet a review of different studies in western countries (where access and availability of food is considered high) found that many pregnant women did not meet dietary recommendations for a healthy diet.
Diet in pregnancy influences the health and wellbeing of mother and child in the short (e.g. supply of nutrients for growth) and long term (e.g. the theory that the roots of a person’s health in later years are laid down during the mother’s pregnancy). “Diet” is a complex concept as it involves many different foods and nutrients consumed daily.
Researching every single one of those is a challenging task – but researching only individual foods or nutrients may lead to false conclusions. Researchers have therefore begun to measure diet in the form of “dietary patterns” or “diet quality”. Common groupings are “health conscious” diets rich in fruit, vegetables and pulses or “processed” diets rich in processed and fast foods.
Pregnancy is often described as a period in life where women would be very motivated to adhere to a healthy diet. Yet a review published in the journal Public Health Forum of different studies in western countries (where access and availability of food is considered high) found that many pregnant women did not meet dietary recommendations. The authors wanted to establish which factors, other than motivation or availability, could influence women’s diet during their pregnancy.
Environmental aspects may influence the pregnancy
Firstly, diet seems to be strongly influenced by a woman’s socio-economic status. Older and more educated and affluent women tended to show better diets. Secondly, many studies found a relationship between a woman’s lifestyle and her diet in pregnancy whereby those who follow healthy life style advice (e.g. with regards to physical activity, dietary supplements or smoking) before and during pregnancy also report healthier diets in pregnancy.
Finally, aspects of the environment (both physical and social) and of the pregnancy itself (e.g. physical symptoms) may influence dietary behaviour. However, more research is needed on these factors.
Based on current evidence, it appears that particularly younger, less educated women and those who show poor lifestyle behaviour are at risk of inadequate diet in pregnancy and should receive particular attention by practitioners.
The authors’ work has shown that the assumption that pregnancy causes greater motivation and interest in health and that this translates into a healthy diet is too simplistic. Instead, studies showed that even in developed countries some women consume poor diets in pregnancy – younger, less affluent women and those with low education appear to be at particular risk.
More research is still needed on the role of environmental determinants and factors related to the pregnancy itself.
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