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Pregnant Women Are Not Following Dietary Guidelines

A systematic review shows women are putting their offspring at risk of various chronic conditions, based on their improper diets.

Cherie Caut

A lack of nutrition in pregnant women can lead to negative consequences for both the carrier and the offspring, according to a recent systematic review.

A team of Australia-based investigators found that pregnant women or those trying to conceive did not meet recommendations for vegetable, cereal grain, or folate intake. Based on their analysis of 18 studies assessing adherence to nutritional recommendations, they found 91% of the studies showed pregnant women did not meet iron intake recommendations, while 55% found the population did not meet requirements for calcium intake.

Although there are established dietary guidelines and nutritional recommendations from World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, these findings suggest that women are not following them—mostly because they are unaware, corresponding author Cherie Caut, lecturer at Endeavour College of Natural Health in Australia, said.

“Promoting links between diet and healthy pregnancy and birth, and increasing support for health professionals, may help better inform women and their partners about the importance of dietary choices on pregnancy success,” Caut said a statement.

Investigators sought to learn who complied with the diet guidelines, the level of adherence, and factors impacting adherence to inform future practices targeted at improving nutritional habits during preconception and pregnancy.

Of the studies included in the analysis, 16 compared the dietary intakes of participants to national guidelines while 2 compared intakes to international guidelines. Nine studies contained information on factors predicting adherence.

In the 8 studies that reported dietary intake as food groups among pregnant women, a majority reported that women were least adherent with recommendations for eating vegetables. Most women, however, frequently met the daily intake for dairy while exceeding protein intake.

Investigators also discovered a correlation between women who received a higher level of education, were older in age, and non-smokers, and adherence to dietary guidelines.

Adherence to nutrition guidelines may include income, food availability and affordability, beliefs and preferences, cultural traditions, and educational, social, geographical, and environmental aspects.

Caut and colleagues noted adherence can provide parental health and nutrition at the time of the conception, preventing non-communicable diseases in offspring which include cardiovascular, diabetic, cancer, chronic respiratory, atopic, and neurologic conditions.

Healthy diet can also prevent excessive weight gain, risks of gestational diabetes, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, preterm, or stillbirths.

Adversely, a lack of adherence during the preconception period and throughout pregnancy can negatively affect fertility, pregnancy and birth outcomes, and the future health of the offspring.

The overall findings of the analysis indicate that women are falling short of the dietary guidelines presented by health organizations, including not consuming enough vegetables, cereal grains, folate, iron, and calcium.

Demographic factors, such as living in an urban or non-metropolitan area, also correlated to higher adherence.

Investigators suggested that health organizations could better construct nutritional recommendations and guidelines. That said, more research is needed to assess the predictors of adherence for men and women during the preconception period, along with the quality of a man’s diet during that time.

The study, "Dietary guideline adherence during preconception and pregnancy: A systematic review," was published online in Maternal & Child Nutrition.