The diet and health of both parents can have profound implications for the growth, development, and long-term health of their children before their conception, according to a series of papers published in The Lancet.
These findings have substantial societal and public health implications and point to a new emphasis on preparing for conception, argue the international teams of authors. They also call for better guidance and support for individuals planning pregnancy and increased public health measures to reduce obesity and improve nutrition.
Commenting on the Lancet articles, Professor Janice Rymer, Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:
“This highly significant research presents stark evidence of the importance of nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period. We are extremely concerned by the findings that 96% of women of reproductive age have iron and folate dietary intakes below the recommendation for pregnancy.
“This is yet another piece of evidence adding to the overwhelming need for the government to add folic acid to flour. This simple measure will reach women most at risk in our society who have poor dietary and socioeconomic status, as well as those women who may not have planned their pregnancy.
“In the UK, the prevalence of obesity is over 25% for both women and men, and around one in four pregnant women are overweight or obese. Diet, weight and the body’s metabolism prior to conception impacts on the chances of conceiving naturally, having a good pregnancy and delivery, as well as effecting the health of children in their later life.
“We support the call for public health measures to ensure individuals are nutritionally prepared for conception and pregnancy and for these interventions to start years before pregnancy. Education from an early age – ideally from adolescence – about the need to maintain a healthy diet and weight will not only improve the health of individuals, but also the health and quality of life of future generations.
“The RCOG recognises that diet and lifestyle in the preconception period is crucial to having a good pregnancy and birth and this year we are working with Tommy’s on a campaign to deliver tailored advice for women on the key steps they can take before getting pregnant to decrease the individual’s risk of complications during pregnancy.”
Note to Editors
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The Lancet’s series on pre-conception and health.
The RCOG’s guidance on healthy eating and vitamin supplements during pregnancy.
The RCOG continues to call for fortification of flour in order to protect babies from birth defects.
On Wednesday 2 May, Folic Acid Awareness Day, the RCOG will take part in a briefing event in Parliament, which will bring together experts from the world of science, health and nutrition, to discuss and debate the need to introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.
Tommy’s is a charity dedicated to funding research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, and providing information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby. For more information, visit https://www.tommys.org
About the RCOG
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is a medical charity that champions the provision of high quality women’s healthcare in the UK and beyond. It is dedicated to encouraging the study and advancing the science and practice of obstetrics and gynaecology. It does this through postgraduate medical education and training and the publication of clinical guidelines and reports on aspects of the specialty and service provision. https://www.rcog.org.uk/