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Does a healthy diet during pregnancy really make a difference?

New research analysing the effect of maternal diet on fetal growth links a healthy diet to a reduced risk of a low birth weight baby.

Low birth weight, defined as a birth weight of less than 2500g (5.5lbs), is a global health problem. It is estimated that approximately 20 million babies a year are born with low birth weight equating to 15-20% of all births. Low birth weight can be linked to a number of concerns such as developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life, as well as being a major predictor of prenatal mortality, morbidity, and altered neurodevelopment. The majority of low birth weight babies are born in low to middle-income countries with particularly vulnerable populations including Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

A healthy diet during pregnancy has long been advocated to ensure the right balance of nutrients for both mother and baby. Although the effect of specific nutrients has been researched in the past, there are few studies that look at the relationship between an overall healthy diet during pregnancy and foetal development.

A recent study published in the Maternal & Child Nutrition journal was designed to evaluate the association between maternal diet and low birth weight. The research team analysed data from a sample of 660 pregnant women recruited in the Pregnancy Research on Inflammation, Nutrition & City Environment: Systematic Analyses cohort (PRINCESA cohort) in Mexico City. Dietary patterns were examined and a maternal diet quality score was designed based on Mexican Dietary Guidelines and international diet recommendations.

The study identified that mothers adhering to a healthy diet during pregnancy are at a reduced risk of having a low birth weight baby.

These results are significant in the design of public health programmes as they support the message that an overall healthy diet during pregnancy is positive for both mother and child. All pregnant women should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet and it is important to understand the socio-economic impact on dietary choices. Unhealthy foods are often seen to be lower in price, readily available and convenient whereas it is difficult for some pregnant women to afford and access fruits and vegetables in certain locations.

This research study highlights the importance of a healthy diet during pregnancy with low birth weight being targeted as a global concern. The World Health Organisation aims for a 30% reduction in low birth weight babies by the year 2025 including the need for adequate nutrition in their policy brief. Further studies of similar nature are recommended across different regions to gain a better understanding of the socio-economic impact on maternal diet.

Written by Helen Massy, BSc.


Ancira‐Moreno, M., O’Neill, M., Rivera‐Dommarco, J., Batis, C., Rodríguez Ramírez, S., Sánchez, B., Castillo‐Castrejón, M. and Vadillo‐Ortega, F. (2020). Dietary patterns and diet quality during pregnancy and low birthweight: The PRINCESA cohort. Maternal & Child Nutrition.

World Health Organization. (2020). Global Nutrition Targets 2025: Low birth weight policy brief. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Feb. 2020].



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