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Diet and physical activity in pregnancy: a study exploring women's beliefs and behaviours

02 May 2019
16 min read
Volume 27 · Issue 5



Being obese or gaining excessive weight during pregnancy can increase health risks for mother and baby. Adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity reduces these risks and has long-term health benefits for women. Despite this, women do not always maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.


To explore the factors that encouraged and prevented a diverse group of women to maintain a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.


A total of 12 women participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews, underpinned by the theory of planned behaviour. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim then subject to deductive thematic analysis.


Four themes emerged: women's knowledge of a healthy lifestyle, sociocultural influences, physical health and health professional support. These influenced women's intentions and actual behaviours during pregnancy.


Enhanced health professional advice may motivate women to adopt a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy. This could be through new means such as health technology.

In the UK, 19% of women of childbearing age are reported to be obese (BMI >30kg/m2) and 26% are reported to be overweight (BMI >25kg/m2) (Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2016). Being obese or gaining excessive weight during pregnancy can increase the risks of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality (Lewis, 2007). Evidence demonstrates that a healthy diet and increased physical activity levels in pregnancy reduce excessive gestational weight gain (Choi et al, 2013; Muktabhant et al, 2015). This in turn reduces the risk of adverse outcomes and long-term health complications (Thangaratinam et al, 2012; Reiner et al, 2013).

The UK recommends using the Eatwell Guide (Public Health England, 2018) to maintain a healthy diet and for adults to undertake 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (exercise where the heart rate is raised slightly but where it is still possible to hold a conversation) per day (Department of Health, 2011). However, evidence suggests that pregnant women do not always maintain a healthy diet (Crozier et al, 2009; Reyes et al, 2013) and/or perform the recommended amount of physical activity (Sui et al, 2013; Denison et al, 2015). Women are not always aware of the health benefits of diet and exercise (Crozier et al, 2009; Sui et al, 2013; Denison et al, 2015) and advice from health professionals can be inconsistent and lack detail (Brown and Avery, 2012; Ferrari et al, 2013).

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