Background: The pre-conception and pregnancy period continues to gain recognition as an ideal opportunity to optimise the health of the mother-to-be, as women become more conscious of food and health related issues at this time (Anderson, 2001). Adhering to a well balanced diet and healthy lifestyle will help ensure optimal health for both mother and baby (Anderson, 2001). The aim of this study was to investigate the diets and lifestyles of a sample of pregnant women in Northern Ireland and to assess adherence to government guidelines.
Methods: A total of 1600 pregnant women attending antenatal clinics at Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, Belfast, participated in this nutritional study from October 2001 to April 2006. Women recruited were enrolled in the Hyperglycaemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome (HAPO) study described elsewhere (HAPO, 2008). Women over 18 years old, approximately 29 weeks gestation (range: 24–35 weeks) were recruited. Participants completed a validated (Hill, 2005) food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) that consisted of a list of 44 items covering all main foods consumed locally. Anthropometric information was also collected at this time, self reported weight approximately three months prior to this pregnancy and height was recorded during the hospital visit. The FFQ responses were coded using standard survey design technique. Various statistical techniques were employed, including Chi squared tests, Analysis of Variance (anova) and Pearson's correlations. Ethical approval for this nutritional study was obtained by Queen's University of Belfast and the University of Ulster filter committee.
Results: Of those women that participated in the study (n = 1600), 33% were overweight (23%) or obese (10%) prior to this pregnancy. Only 11% (n = 176) of women consumed five or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily; a greater proportion of these women were older (P < 0.0005), married (P < 0.0005) and non-smokers (P < 0.0005). 35% of the women achieved an estimated intake of 700 mg of calcium. Overall, the mean calcium intake was 560 mg (251.12). Chocolate bars and biscuits were the most popular snack food, eaten by 86% (n = 1378) at least once a week; women that were more likely to eat chocolate as a snack were younger (P < 0.0005). 24% of women smoked during their pregnancy and 26% consumed alcohol at some stage during the pregnancy.
Discussion: A considerable proportion of women were overweight or obese prior to this pregnancy; obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and also obstetrical complications. The study also showed that few women consumed the five or more portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily which was less than that reported in a previous survey of women in NI, in which 31% met the five a day requirement (DHSSPS, 2007). The rate of smoking in the current study was comparable with other studies conducted in pregnant women; Mouratidou et al. (2006) reported a 28% smoking rate amongst pregnant women.
Conclusion: Presently, there are no other studies conducted on dietary and lifestyle habits of pregnant women in Northern Ireland; this study has identified the need for public health intervention to encourage and educate women to implement changes for their health and the health of their children.
References: Anderson, A.S. (2001) Pregnancy as a time for dietary change? Symposium on ‘Nutritional adaption to pregnancy and lactation’. Proc. Nutr. Soc.60, 497–504.
DHSSPS (2007) Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Health and Lifestyle Report. A report from the Health and Social Wellbeing Survey 2005/2006, pp1–150. DHSSPS, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
HAPO (2008) The Hyperglycaemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcome. N. Engl. J. Med.358, 1991–2002.
Hill, A.J. (2005) Dietary intakes and lifestyle factors of pregnant women in Northern Ireland, PhD, University of Ulster.
Mouratidou, T., Ford, F., Prountzou, F. & Fraser, R. (2006) Dietary Assessment of a population of pregnant women in Sheffield, UK. Br. J. Nutr.96, 929–935.