What stops us from eating: a qualitative investigation of dietary barriers during pregnancy in Punjab, Pakistan

Muhammad Asim, Zarak H. Ahmed, Amy R. Nichols, Rachel Rickman, Elena Neiterman, Anita Mahmood, Elizabeth M. Widen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract Objective: Adequate dietary intake during pregnancy is vital for the health and nutritional status of both mother and fetus. The nutritional status of reproductive age women in Pakistan is poor, with 14 % being underweight (BMI < 18·5) and 42 % experiencing Fe deficiency anaemia. This may stem from beliefs, practices and other barriers influencing dietary intake. This qualitative study seeks to determine which factors impact dietary intake during pregnancy in rural Punjab. Design: In-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted and then analysed using thematic analysis. Setting: Three purposively selected rural districts (Sahiwal, Okara and Pakpatan) with the highest prevalence of maternal and child malnutrition in the province of Punjab, Pakistan Participants: Mothers with children under age two (n 29) and healthcare providers with at least 5 years of experience working in the district (n 12). Results: We identified a combination of physiological, socio-cultural and structural barriers that inhibited healthful dietary intake during pregnancy. The primary physiological barriers to optimal dietary intake and dietary practices included food aversions and food cravings. Food classification, fear of a difficult childbirth, fear of high blood pressure and household food politics were the principal socio-cultural barriers. Additionally, two structural barriers, inadequate antenatal counseling and a lack of affordable food options, were identified. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that complex barriers prevent pregnant women in the Punjab area from consuming adequate dietary intake and that antenatal health education programmes and structural interventions are needed to support healthful dietary practices during this critical period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)760-769
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2022


  • Food intake barriers
  • Morning sickness
  • Nutrition during pregnancy
  • Nutritional status
  • Qualitative research


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