Most Latina and black women do not eat a healthy diet before pregnancy, despite its many benefits, according to a new study.

A healthy maternal diet can reduce risk of obesity, preterm birth, and preeclampsia.

The study scored the diets of 7,500 women in the weeks leading up to pregnancy. No women in any racial/ethnic group met the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to study leader Lisa Bodnar of the University of Pittsburgh.

Hispanic Family Hands on Pregnant Mother Tummy Feeling Baby KickOnly about 25% of white, 14% of Latina, and 5% of black women had well-scored diets.

Soda was the primary contributor to energy intake among Latina an black women, according to the study.

“Our findings mirror national nutrition and dietary trends. The diet-quality gap among non-pregnant people is thought to be a consequence of many factors, including access to and price of healthy foods, knowledge of a healthy diet, and pressing needs that may take priority over a healthy diet,” Bodnar told HealthDay.

Obesity Among Pregnant Latinas

Nearly half of Latinas are overweight or obese when they become pregnant.

Latinas also are only half as likely as whites to meet guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy, according to research by Salud America!.

They face many barriers, such as limited knowledge of how to safely get physical activity. They also lack support from their spouse, or lack friends to do activities with, or childcare.

“[Latinas have] cultural beliefs than emphasize rest over exercise, unsafe streets, and social isolation,” according to the research.

What does that mean for their kids?

Kids are less likely to be overweight or obese if the mother reports moderate exercise during pregnancy.

But obese Latina moms gave birth to kids who were 1.8 times more likely to be obese than their peers, according to the Salud America! research.

How Can We Help Latinas Get Healthier?

Bodnar, the study leader, also suggested “overarching societal and policy changes that help women to make healthy dietary choices.”

The Salud America! research also suggests healthcare providers use pre-delivery educational programs. This can promote health benefits of breastfeeding and help pregnant Latinas engage in physical activity.

Community leaders are putting this suggestion into practice:

  • Nikki Van Strien and other moms in largely Latino Arizona created the AZ Breastfeeding Bag Project. They provide all new breastfeeding mothers with a bag filled with educational material and breastfeeding supply samples.
  • In Arlington Heights, Ill., a hospital system hired five promotoras de salud to go into the community and increase Latinos’ awareness of diabetes and breastfeeding.
  • Health advocate Erick Ocampo started Spanish classes that teach Latino community members proper health care in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

See more about how to help Latinas and their kids reach a healthy weight!

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