Prevalence and significance for maternal nutrition in Ethiopia
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A cross-sectional study of the nutritional significance of food aversions and cravings during pregnancy was conducted on 295 women in southern Ethiopia between February and May 1995. A questionnaire was used to collect data on dietary practices. Mid-upper-arm circumference (MUAC), triceps skinfold thickness (TSFT), and weight measurements were used to assess nutritional status. Slightly fewer than three-quarters (71%) of the women craved one or more foods, whereas about two-thirds (65%) avoided at least one food. Cereal foods, despite being staple foods in the area, were avoided by more women (41%) than any other foods. Livestock products, which were scarce at the time of the study, were craved by more women (55%) than any other foods. Comparisons using various anthropometric indicators revealed that women who avoided foods had significantly higher MUAC and TSFT than those who did not (p < .05), whereas there was no difference in nutritional status between women who craved foods and those who did not. However, those craving women who managed to get the desired foods had significantly higher weight gain (p < .05), but not significantly higher MUAC or TSFT, than those who did not. Aversion and craving were positively associated (χ2 = 10.66, p < .001; odds ratio, 2.36). Thus, women who avoided foods were 2.4 times more likely to crave foods than those who did not avoid foods. This implies that aversion and craving are complementary processes geared towards ensuring optimal nutrition during pregnancy. Aversion results in the avoidance of monotonous diets, whereas craving calls for varied and nutritious foods. More research, however, is needed before such a conclusion is warranted.