Dietary habits, food taboos, and perceptions towards weight gain during pregnancy in Arsi, rural central Ethiopia: a qualitative cross-sectional study|
Zerfu, Taddese Alemu; Umeta, Melaku & Baye, Kaleab
Background: The nutritional status of women before and during pregnancy can be determined by maternal
knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions towards certain foods. The present study aimed to explore maternal dietary
habits, food taboos, and cultural beliefs that can affect nutrition during pregnancy in rural Arsi, central Ethiopia.
Methods: A qualitative, cross-sectional study, involving 38 key informant in-depth interviews and eight focus group
discussions, was conducted among purposefully selected pregnant women and their husbands, elderly people,
community leaders, health workers, and agriculture office experts. Participants were selected purposefully from all
the major agro-ecologic areas of the study site. Data was analyzed manually using the thematic framework analyses
Results: The pregnant women reported that they did not change the amount and type of foods consumed to take
into account their increased nutritional need during pregnancy. The consumption of meat, fish, fruits, and some
vegetables during pregnancy remained as low as the pre-pregnancy state, irrespective of the women’s income and
educational status. Although not practiced by all, a number of taboos related to the intake of certain food items
and misconceptions that can adversely affect nutritional status during pregnancy were identified. The most
common taboos were related to the consumption of green leafy vegetables, yogurt, cheese, sugar cane, and green
pepper. However, the frequency and extent of the practice varied by maternal age, family composition, and literacy
level. Older mothers, from rural villages, and those with no formal education were more likely to practice the
taboos than younger and educated ones. Almost all of the participants disfavored weight gain during pregnancy in
fear of obstetric complications associated with the delivery of a bigger infant.
Conclusions: Misconceptions about weight gain during pregnancy and food taboos were widespread, particularly
among older and illiterate rural communities. Thus, future nutrition programs should promote diversification of
both the agricultural production and consumption.
Food taboo; Maternal nutrition; Dietary diversity; Pregnancy; Weight gain