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‘Eating for two’ pregnancy myth still risks harming mothers and their babies despite best intentions

Information for women about how much they should eat during pregnancy is still not reaching many families, potentially putting the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies at risk.

A survey [1] commissioned by the National Charity Partnership, a partnership between Diabetes UK, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Tesco, has found that more than two-thirds of pregnant women (69 per cent) are unaware of how many extra calories they need to consume during pregnancy. More than six in ten (63 per cent) report feeling under pressure from others to eat larger meals than normal with 14 per cent of pregnant respondents saying that this pressure is constant.

The National Charity Partnership is working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to bust the ‘eating for two’ myth and make it easier for people to understand how to make healthy choices during pregnancy to avoid unhealthy weight gain.

Alex Davis, Head of Prevention for the National Charity Partnership, said: “The ‘eating for two’ myth has been around for years, but it’s very unhelpful. Eating healthily and consuming healthy portion sizes are important before, during and after pregnancy to increase the chances of conceiving naturally, reduce the risk of pregnancy and birth-related complications and stave off health problems like Type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease in the long-term.”

Using the Royal College’s expertise, the National Charity Partnership has published a series of articles online as part of its Let’s Do This campaign to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and how it can reduce the risk of health-related conditions. All information is available at www.lets-dothis.org.uk

Ms. Davis added: “We encourage all women to think about how they can eat well and our new information should make this easier for those who are currently pregnant or are trying to conceive.”

Official NICE guidance advises that “energy needs do not change in the first 6 months of pregnancy” and says women only require around 200 extra calories per day in the last trimester of pregnancy. This is equivalent to two pieces of wholegrain toast with olive oil spread or a small handful of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. However, the National Charity Partnership and RCOG say this information still isn’t reaching women and their families.

According to the survey, more than one in three pregnant women believe they need to eat 300 or more extra calories each day and around six in ten (61 per cent) think they need to start consuming these extra calories in the first or second trimester. Around one in four pregnant women (26 per cent) also admit to using the ‘eating for two’ excuse all the time to eat unhealthy snacks or meals.

Professor Janice Rymer, Vice President of Education for the RCOG, said: “Eating too much during pregnancy and putting on too much weight can be detrimental to both mother and baby. Women who are overweight during pregnancy are at an increased risk of having a miscarriage and developing conditions such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. They are also more likely to have a premature baby, require a Caesarean section, experience a haemorrhage after birth or develop a clot which can be life-threatening. In addition, overweight women have bigger babies who are themselves more likely to become obese and have significant health problems as a result.”

With rising levels of obesity in the UK, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the National Charity Partnership between Diabetes UK, the BHF and Tesco is working to help millions of people look after their bodies and long-term health by moving more and eating healthily. Through its Let’s Do This campaign, the National Charity Partnership has so far helped around one million people become more active and is supporting thousands of families to understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle and cook nutritious meals from scratch. For more information, please visit the Let’s Do This website.

 

Notes:

1. Key findings include:

  • More than four in five UK women (85 per cent) don’t know how many extra calories to consume during pregnancy. For women who are currently pregnant, this figure is 69 per cent.
  • Nearly two in three pregnant women (63 per cent) report feeling under pressure from others to eat larger meals. Of these, 14 per cent say that this pressure is constant.
  • Around one in four pregnant women (26 per cent) admit to using the ‘eating for two’ excuse all the time to eat unhealthy snacks or meals. Forty six per cent say they use it now and again.
  • More than half of respondents who are currently pregnant (56 per cent) say they feel under pressure from others to eat more unhealthy snacks or meals. Of these 21 per cent say that this pressure is constant
  • Forty four per cent of respondents said their biggest fear with gaining weight during pregnancy was having to lose it afterwards. One in ten (10 per cent) said their biggest fear was developing gestational diabetes and 11 per cent said it was high blood pressure.