Most Pregnant Women Aren't Getting Adequate Nutrition, Research Finds

Most Pregnant Women Aren't Getting Adequate Nutrition, Research Finds
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For Glamour, by Suzannah Weiss.

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You already know what you eat while expecting is closely tied to the development of your baby — a big reason we cut things out of our diet — but, according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it turns out most pregnant women aren’t actually consuming foods they need for their own health and the health of their newborn.

Researchers analyzed surveys from 7,511 newly pregnant women and evaluated their preconception diets based on the Healthy Eating Index-2010, which measures adherence to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations. Across all socioeconomic and racial groups, most women weren’t meeting the recommendations. When it came to limiting empty calories and getting the right amount of whole grains, fatty acids, and sodium, only 10 percent of women met the recommendations. Thirty-four percent of the calories the women consumed were from empty-calorie sources like sodas and sweets.

That’s distressing enough on its own, but the problem was especially big for black and Hispanic women, as well as those who had received less education. While almost a quarter of the white women were among the healthiest of the research subjects, just 14 percent of Hispanic women and 4.6 percent of black women were.

This isn’t a moment for mom shaming — women may not need to be told to be more responsible about their health during pregnancy. Research shows they’re already quite thoughtful about it. A recent study in Obstetrics and Gynecology, for example, found that the majority of women stopped drinking once they either decided to get pregnant or learned they were pregnant. So rather than reprimand women for not eating right, the focus should be on making sure we have the resources, information, and food options necessary to do so.

The Trump administration isn’t making much progress on that front: One of the President’s proposed budget cuts would take millions of dollars away from programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that provide food and nutrition education to low-income moms and kids. Struggling families were able to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with the vouchers the WIC gave out, which contributed to a lower childhood obesity rate. Losing this funding could mean even bigger problems for mom and soon-to-be moms trying to keep themselves and their families healthy.

The study’s lead author, Lisa Bodnar, explained in a press release that we can’t put it all on individual women to solve this problem. “While attention should be given to improving nutritional counseling at doctor appointments, overarching societal and policy changes that help women to make healthy dietary choices may be more effective and efficient,” she said. “The diet quality gap among nonpregnant people is thought to be a consequence of many factors, including access to and price of healthy foods, knowledge of a healthy diet, and pressing needs that may take priority over a healthy diet.”

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