Australian researchers from the University of Queensland have raised concerns over the influence a spouse’s diet has on a woman’s food choices during pregnancy, as the expecting mother’s diet and health will also impact the health of their future children.
“Better education and support for partners could help improve the eating habits of expectant mums, which in turn will make the foetus healthier and reduce the future risk of disease,” the principal investigator of the research team, Prof. Vicki Clifton, said.
The team studied the diet and health of 194 pregnant women and their spouses who were booked to give birth at the Mater Mothers’ Hospital from 2018 to 2020.
A survey was conducted at 22 weeks of gestation on their health conditions, with the dietary intake of both participants in the previous three to six months self-reported at 24 weeks’ gestation.
“We know behaviours during the first 1,000 days of life, starting from conception, influence developmental trajectories of adult chronic diseases,” Clifton said.
“Healthy eating during pregnancy provides the unborn child with an important foundation for future good health, but many pregnant women aren’t meeting the recommended Australian Dietary Guidelines.”
According to the Australian guideline (pdf), the two core food groups of cereals, vegetables and legumes should be prioritised, with meat, fruits and dairy sharing similar loading.
However, the team found that overall there was a “poor alignment” with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating in participants.
“Only 41.4 percent of women met daily fruit and 28.4 percent vegetable intake recommendations, while around 31.5 percent and 15.0 percent of their partners met these, respectively,” the authors wrote.
Additionally, fewer than one percent of women and 20 percent of partners met the recommended intake serves for the cereals and grains core food group, with overall diet quality of 30.6 and 29.2 out of 73 for women and their partners, respectively correlating with poor diet quality.
Low proportions of women met micronutrient intake recommendations, particularly for folic acid, which was only four percent of the cohort, iodine stood at 15 percent, and iron was at less than one percent.
Though a more significant proportion of their partners met the micronutrient recommendations, the ratio was still low for calcium and folic acid, which stood at 40 and 50 percent respectively.
“An association exists between women’s and partners’ dietary intake and their likelihood of alignment with national food and nutrient recommendations,” the team observed, mainly related to fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy.
Additionally, the team also found the high proportion of women experiencing excessive weight gain during gestation concerning.
Although the data was not shown, the authors also noted that they observed women with a BMI over the recommended range in pre-pregnancy were far more likely to gain weight over recommended weight ranges, “suggesting the urgent need for evidence-informed public health policy and programs to improve diet quality during pregnancy and help prevent intergenerational effects.”
“These findings reinforce the need to ensure multilevel strategies are implemented to support healthy gestational weight gain,” the team said.