British women are woefully unprepared for pregnancy because they’re living unhealthy lifestyles, new research has found.
A survey reveals that large numbers of young women smoke, drink too much alcohol, are overweight or obese, and consume inadequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. They are also lacking sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals.
Of the women in the 26 to 30-year-old age group surveyed – making up 19% of the total, not one of them was getting the recommended one microgram per day of vitamin B12, which is essential to the healthy development of a baby’s nervous system.
Researchers analysed data on 509 women aged 18 to 42 who took part in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey.
The findings form part of a detailed assessment of parental diet and lifestyle spread across three papers in The Lancet medical journal.
Lead author Professor Judith Stephenson, from University College London, said: ‘While the current focus on risk factors, such as smoking and excess alcohol intake, is important, we also need new drives to prepare nutritionally for pregnancy for both parents.
‘Raising awareness of preconception health and increasing availability of support to improve health before conception will be crucial.
‘This isn’t about provoking fear or blaming individuals – our analysis establishes the importance of health of the next generation, stresses societal responsibility, and demands strong local, national and international leadership.’
Evidence suggests that smoking, high alcohol and caffeine intake, poor diet, obesity and malnutrition all have an impact on the development of an unborn baby, said the researchers.
The knock-on effects last well into adulthood and may increase a child’s life-long risk of heart disease, metabolic disorders, and neurological and immune system conditions, they pointed out.
While most of the risk factors affected mothers, the poor-quality sperm of obese prospective fathers was thought to increase the chances of children suffering chronic disease later in life.
The survey conducted between 2008 and 2012 found that 40% of women aged 26 to 30 were overweight or obese. Some 70% of this age group ate less than five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.
This was also true of 91% of younger women aged 18 to 25. More than a third of women aged 26 to 30, and a third of those aged 18 to 25, were smokers – while 28% of the younger age group consumed high-risk levels of alcohol.