Helping pregnant teenagers eat better

Teenage girls have the poorest quality diets of any population group in the UK. If they are pregnant this can affect the health of their baby.

Teenage girls have the poorest quality diets of any population group in the UK. When they need to provide for a growing baby as well, a poor diet can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy. Our work shows that pregnant teenagers want to improve their diets and trust advice from their midwives. However, midwives struggle to find opportunities to discuss diet and nutrition and often lack the confidence and knowledge to do so.

Our partners at the University of Southampton have previously developed and tested training in skills to help healthcare professionals engage with and support change in hard-to-reach patients. Using these skills improves patients’ confidence that they can improve their diet and lifestyle but is not enough to support actual, concrete change.

In partnership with pregnant teenagers and midwives, this project will develop an intervention to provide pregnant teenagers with personalised support for maintaining improvements to their diets between appointments. The patients will see a midwife trained in skills to support behaviour change. So far, research teams have spoken with pregnant teenagers and frontline health professionals to find out what stops them eating well and what would help them change this. 

We will research the best way to support pregnant teenagers to maintain a healthy diet, including the possibility of online and smartphone-based tools. We will adapt existing resources to include new behaviour change and diet advice. We are aiming to create an intervention that combines training midwives in supporting pregnant teenagers, with a digital tool to help teenagers maintain the changes to their diet.

We will then study how possible this intervention will be in maternity services in three areas of the UK with high teenage pregnancy rates. We will also use a randomised controlled trial to see how effective it is. This study will be carried out by a partnership of charities, researchers, user groups and practitioners. It will be overseen by a steering group chaired by Professor Lucilla Poston, Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health in Tommy's London centre.

Researchers

Professor Mary Barker, Hora Soltani, Rachel Rundle, Leanne Morrison, Melissa Whitworth, Judith Stephenson

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Funding

Tommy's is a partner in this research project funded by the Medical Research Council

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