Maternal undernutrition, such as exists in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, can lead to suboptimal fetal development with implications for life-long effects on health and well-being.  Provision of diets containing a desirable balance of nutrients could help diminish the prevalence of adverse birth outcomes in these areas.  However, it is not clear what impacts the sources of nutrients may have on birth outcomes.  To address this void in our understanding Kamenju and colleagues conducted a study to determine the association of protein derived from animal foods and adverse birth outcomes.  The results of their study are reported in the November 2022 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.

HIV-negative women (n=7564) in Tanzania provided information on their dietary intake using 24-hour recalls during monthly prenatal visits conducted from early in pregnancy through 36 weeks of gestation.  The birth outcomes evaluated were: preterm birth, very preterm birth, small for gestational age (SGA), low birth weight (LBW), stillbirth, and neonatal death.

A higher intake of animal source protein was associated with a lower risk of neonatal death.  Greater amounts of fish intake was associated with lower risk of very preterm birth.  Lower preterm birth, very preterm birth and neonatal death were associated with any meat intake, whereas it led to an increased risk of SGA.  Egg intake led to reduced risk of very preterm birth and dairy intake was associated with a lower risk of preterm birth and very preterm birth.  The median intake of animal protein was 17 g/d.  These results led the authors to conclude that a higher frequency of animal foods is associated with lower risks of adverse birth outcomes, and that promoting prenatal intake of animal foods may improve birth outcomes in regions such as this.


Pili Kamenju, Isabel Madzorera, Ellen Hertzmark, Willy Urassa, Wafaie W Fawzi, Higher Dietary Intake of Animal Protein Foods in Pregnancy Is Associated with Lower Risk of Adverse Birth Outcomes, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 152, Issue 11, November 2022, Pages 2546–2554,

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