Number of pregnant women at risk of poverty increases

A study into the nutritional intake of pregnant women has found the number at risk of consistent poverty has doubled or even trebled in recent years.

The study, published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, found that in a sample of 402 pregnant women, 7.7% were at risk of consistent poverty, and 34.6% were at risk of relative income poverty.

The study also showed that 57.2% had consumed alcohol during their pregnancy, and 12.7% smoked.

It also found that just under 11% were obese and just under 30% were deemed overweight, although taking a wider sample of 524 pregnant women, the percentage of those classed as obese rose to more than 16%.

The study was primarily to trial a new method of capturing pregnant women’s dietary intake using an innovative online tool, but the data also throws up detail about the level of nutrition in the sample group.

One of the main authors of the study, Daniel McCartney of the School of Biological Sciences at Dublin Institute of Technology, said there would be a further drilling down into the data to highlight other issues about the dietary intake of pregnant women.

Initial responses from 524 women were then lowered to 402 after 122 respondents were found to have “under-reported” what they were eating and drinking during the period of research.

Of the 7.7% of respondents found to be at risk of consistent poverty, Mr McCartney said: “That would not have been 7.7% five, six, seven years ago. These people not only have low incomes but they also have manifest difficulty providing normal resources for themselves and their families.”

He estimated that the number of pregnant women at risk of consistent poverty may have doubled or trebled in recent years and added: “It is really serious.”

While further data will be mined from the findings, in the case of cigarettes and alcohol, the actual level of usage is not specified, although it is recommended that pregnant women should not drink or smoke.

The study will also focus on issues such as low folate status, metabolic ill-health linked to excessive saturated fat and refined sugar intake, and potential deficiencies in Vitamins A and D, as well as iron and other minerals.

While the obesity level among the women sampled was not higher than the national average, Mr McCartney said further data might indicate whether alcohol consumption was a factor in excessive weight gain, and the level at which some women were “nutritionally compromised”.

The initial results of the study, entitled ‘Use of a Web-based Dietary Assessment Tool in Early Pregnancy’, are published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science


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