Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Pregnancy, a missed opportunity to influence later health?

Report by the Infant & Toddler Forum calls for  nutrition guidance in pre-conception and pregnancy to be a public health priority

A report released today by the Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF)  highlights the need for pre-conception and pregnancy  to be seen as a critical ‘window of opportunity’ to improve the health of the next generation.

Backed by stakeholders in early life nutrition, including baby charity Tommy’s, Borne and the Pre-school Learning Alliancethe report, ‘Early Nutrition for Later Health: Time to Act Earlier’, acknowledges the emerging evidence that a mother’s weight and nutritional status before, during and between pregnancies can have a long lasting effect on the baby’s health and the risk of disease later in life. In fact how and what mothers eat could potentially affect the health of future generations. 

The reality, however, is that we are not doing enough to take advantage of this opportunity. The report paints a picture of confusion and lack of advice for mums on nutrition and healthy lifestyles in pregnancy informed by a survey of 1,000 mothers and over 150 healthcare professionals:

  • Just under half (46%) of mums said they made no changes to their diet after finding out they were pregnant
  • 64 per cent of mums would welcome more advice or support relating to their pregnancy, with another one in two confused about the correct diet or supplementation for breastfeeding
  • One in three healthcare professionals have had no training in nutrition in pregnancy or infant breast feeding and 43% had no training in obesity in pregnancy
“Pregnancy and pre-conception need to be our new focus.” says Dr Atul Singhal, Professor of Paediatric Nutrition at the UCL Institute of Child Health, and Chair of the ITF. “Although, the early years are now well-established as critical to influencing health outcomes in later life, and whilst the past ten years have seen a growing commitment to early years intervention, obesity is still a major public health issue that continues to threaten the health of younger people. England is the ninth fattest nation in Europe, and one in four seven to 11-year-olds are overweight or obese[i]. That is why we need to focus earlier on in the life cycle, to influence nutrition and life choices from before conception through to preschool.

As we celebrate our 10th anniversary there has never been a more crucial time to seize this opportunity for pregnant mothers to enhance the health of their child and for our health system to support them."   

In response to the findings, the ITF is expanding its educational remit to take a life course approach to nutrition and health, from pregnancy and infancy through to toddlerhood. The ITF’s aim is to support and empower healthcare professionals to help families to make healthy lifestyle choices by delivering clear, practical advice on those critical early windows of opportunity to provide children with the best start in life.

Gill Perks, Midwifery Matron, Antenatal and Postnatal Services, NHS, said: “This report supports the Department of Health’s mantra of ‘making every contact count’. In pre-conception and pregnancy we must not miss this opportunity to advise and influence a woman’s health, nutritional and dietary habits and midwives are in an ideal position to support women in this.

“The report supports greater emphasis within primary care of pre-conception clinics to guide all parents-to-be on nutrition and lifestyle. It also calls for action to increase the uptake of recommended vitamins and supplements during pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s not just about giving information, we need to be able to support women to change behaviour by recognising what works for them and having the healthy conversation. A move I support.”

The first factsheet in the new pregnancy series, Healthy Eating in Pregnancy is available to download from the ITF website. To find out more information on health and development from pregnancy to preschool, visit the ITF website and sign up for monthly email bulletins with news and information about the Forum. 
If you have press office enquiries, please contact:
Louise Banks on 020 8971 6416 /, Samantha Williams on 020 8971 6420 /  Neil Hardman on 020 8971 6419 /

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