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East London study looking into effects of Mediterranean diet in pregnancy launches today

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) is today launching a new East London based study looking into the effects of a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy, and its ability to reduce pregnancy-related complications such as pre-eclampsia.

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Pre-eclampsia, a condition which raises blood pressure and can cause premature birth, is one of the leading causes of death for mothers and babies. It accounts for 65% of foetal or infant deaths and 50% of neurological disability in childhood.

In partnership with East London’s Food Academy, the study will look at how a Mediterranean diet intervention – such as eating more healthy fats and reducing processed foods – can reduce pre-eclampsia among high-risk women.

Around half of all women in East London who enter pregnancy are obese or overweight, which (along with other risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes) significantly increases chances of pre-eclampsia and other long-term problems such as heart disease and stroke.

Professor Shakila Thangaratinam, who will lead the study at Queen Mary University of London, comments: “We are very excited to be launching this study today. Pre-eclampsia is a leading cause of death among mothers and babies in East London and health issues caused by poor diet are common. The diet is based around high intakes of fruit and vegetables and heart-healthy fats and we know following these principles can make a positive difference both in general health and preventing pregnancy-related complications. However, more thorough and high quality research is needed so we can fully understand and demonstrate the preventive benefits of a healthy diet in pregnancy, with the specific aim of reducing risk of pre-eclampsia.”

The research is funded by Barts Charity and will be carried out by QMUL’s Women’s Health Research Unit across three maternity units within Barts Health NHS Trust, which delivers 17,000 women each year.

Over 1000 eligible women with at least one risk factor (such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes) will be selected to take part in the study. Researchers will randomly allocate half of them to receive Mediterranean dietary intervention, and the other half to receive the routine care currently offered by the NHS. The outcomes and risk of pre-eclampsia will be evaluated.

The Mediterranean diet intervention will include structured meal plans and grocery lists, recipes for healthy diet and appropriate choices at restaurants. Individual recommendations will be made for dietary changes in the participant’s diet in order to achieve a personalised goal. The dietary plan will involve both the partners and where appropriate the whole family.   

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